5 Things First-Generation College Students Should Know
As a person who came into school with a father who did not attend grade school and a mother who received her bachelor’s degree in the Dominican Republic, college seemed like a daunting challenge, but certainly not impossible. Wondering how I would navigate being the first and youngest sibling to attend higher education in the U.S., Binghamton University gave me the space to be a proud, first-generation college student.
As a first-gen who has struggled throughout my years in higher education, the best advice that I can give to incoming first-gens is to understand that college is hard, especially as a first-gen who did not have guidance from her parents. What truly matters is what you will do to overcome the challenges and how you will advocate for yourself. Here are five suggestions for breaking down obstacles and maximizing opportunities for present and future first-generation college students.
Use the resources available to you
One of Binghamton’s best resources on campus is the Fleishman Center for Career and Professional Development. This office will help you with everything from landing your dream internship to brushing up your resume and cover letter. Other great offices are Harpur Edge and Student Support Services. First-gen students have their own special support programs, like the BFirst Network. Through connecting first-gen students with first-gen teachers, staff, alumni and other first-gen college students, BFirst aims to give all first-generation college students at Binghamton University a genuine sense of belonging.
Preparing for your career is important, but you have to make sure your academic standards are up to par as well. Office hours are the perfect time to make connections and get some extra help. When I went to office hours for Organic Chemistry, Dr. Kissling was able to help me understand key concepts, instead of just memorizing the information. I became so confident in my skills that I became a Lead Teaching Assistant for Organic Chemistry! I now get to motivate students into following the same advice that I was once given.
Tutoring centers can also become an academic resource for you. It’s great to hear other students’ perspectives on course materials and their study methods. Joining a study group can help you meet others in the same situation as you, but also make friends as you learn and teach each other. When I took Organic Chemistry, the EOP Tutorial Center would offer tutors for the course and I would attend every Tuesday and Thursday. By doing this, I really won, making friends and getting a good grade in the course.
Get involved on campus and in the community
Did you know that 20-30% of Binghamton college students are first-gen? This means that there are likely numerous first-gens to connect with in your residence hall or maybe even your classroom. Making friends is a huge part of the college experience because they will be by your side as you all navigate the next four years of college.
The Princeton Review has ranked Binghamton one of the top universities in the country with “more to do on campus.” Explore new ways to get involved by joining a club or an organization that brings you joy. Joining clubs and organizations can help build a support system that can provide advice and guidance throughout your college experience.
Another extracurricular activity that you can pursue is doing volunteer or community work. This can help you familiarize yourself with the community outside of campus and also explore the wonderful traditions all year round. I attend meetings held by the Pre-Physician Assistant Society here at Binghamton. Not only have I made friends that I also share classes with, such as Anatomy and Physiology, but they have helped me prepare myself for my future as a physician assistant.
Ask for help
Being the first in your family to enter college can be daunting, but don’t let that stop you from asking for help. I am here to tell you that there are so many people on campus that are rooting for your success. If you step out of your comfort zone, you will see that you are not alone and that you are not the only one that may feel so small on a big campus. Surround yourself with those people, and you will see that being a first-generation college student is wonderful. You will eventually make friends and be part of something great.
Never be afraid to attend office hours because the professor can help ease the overwhelmingness of the course. Never be afraid to go to club meetings or organizations because they are there doing something that they love, and they are more than happy to share their interests with you. Never be afraid to go to the Fleishman Center because they can help you obtain jobs and internships that can benefit you in the long run. Overall, never be afraid to ask for help and try something new.
Although sometimes you may feel unprepared and like you do not fit in at this school, always remember that you are not alone. You do not need to change yourself to fulfill other people’s image of you, and never feel obligated to do things that aren’t the best fit for you and your dreams. College is about experiencing the good and bad, overcoming obstacles, and discovering yourself while doing things that you enjoy. Overall, do not feel obligated to become somebody that you are not, and just be the best version of yourself.
When I first moved to campus, I had trouble fitting into this large school after coming from a small community college. At first, I struggled to make friends, but as I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, I decided to be more outgoing, and eventually, I surrounded myself with great people. Every semester I still make new friends in my classes.
Embrace the first-gen identity
The first-gen identity is often invisible, but that does not mean that we should not embrace it and express it. It is an amazing feeling to know that we are surrounded by so many more that share this identity and are able to explore it with each other. I have met so many students, professors, and, of course, the BFirst Network, and it was such an eye-opening experience for me to see so many people in a room that share common experiences. At first, I did not think that the first-gen identity was “cool,” and I always hid from it. Once I entered the doors of Binghamton University and learned about how amazing it is to share stories and advice with other first-gens, it made me feel part of a tight-knit community within a larger campus community.
Using the opportunities available to you is crucial for navigating college. Whether you are a current and/or incoming first-generation college student at Binghamton University and you have questions about campus resources or are simply looking to connect with other first-gen students, teachers, staff and or alumni, don’t be afraid to get in touch with the BFirst Network. Good luck with everything and know that you are meant to be here!
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Harriet Tubman
Antinea Sanchez is a senior majoring in biological sciences at Binghamton University. She transferred to Binghamton in the fall of 2021 from Orange County Community College. When she’s not in the classroom, Sanchez is a part of the BFirst Network Committee, a Lead Teaching Assistant for Organic Chemistry, and an Educational Opportunity Program Transfer Peer Mentor and Coordinator.
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