The first semester of college is hard. Adjusting to the new environment, making new friends, being separated from family, meeting the new roommate, and taking college-level classes all make for a very stressful time.
While most students have some sort of family member in or graduated from college, a minority of the student population does not have this advantage. This minority group consists of First Generation students.
First Generation students, by definition, are students whose parent(s) did not attend college and/or obtain a college degree.
According to mental health experts from the Wellness Center, FG students have a higher risk of exposure to a multitude of disadvantages than non-FG students. For example, FG students are more likely to enter college with little to no knowledge of college jargon, traditions, or expectations.
“I really had no idea what to expect when I got here,” stated an anonymous Junior. “I didn’t know any of the slang. I didn’t know how to address my instructors. Nothing. It was so confusing for the longest time.”
FG students also tend to feel extra pressure from themselves and their families to do well. This pressure may be amplified by the stress of adjusting to classes.
“Since you’re not paying for school, there’s a lot of added pressure to do well,” noted Freshman Jaquela House.
Drop-out rates are also higher among FG students. This may be because of an inability to balance the different aspects of their lives (family, friends, school, work, etc.), difficulty dealing with being separated from their family, a feeling of isolation or pressure, or an incapacity to overcome cross-cultural differences.
“It’s hard to balance work, family, school, and such” stated an anonymous Sophomore. “Even though I’ve been doing it for a while, sometimes it does get tough and my grades do suffer for it.”
While FG students are a minority population now, this may change in the next few years here at McDaniel.
“Our population of FG students has increased sharply in the past 5 years,” commented Dean Violanti.
As of now, about 40% of McDaniel College students are FG students, according to the Wellness Center.
A lot of FG students have shared feelings of excitement and anxiety about moving away from family, doubt of their academic worthiness and ability, responsibility to pay for school and to contribute to their family despite distance, a duty to maintain their individual identity, and a sense of confusion in reference to college policies, procedures, and/or resources.
“First generation college students feel very isolated and alone. They assume that no one else understands their experience,” commented Erin MacDougall from the Wellness Center.
To prevent these feelings from proving too overwhelming, the mental health experts of the Wellness Center recommend the following:
- Get involved in different clubs and non-academic activities. This way, FG students will feel more connected to the campus community and receive support from it.
- Talk to others about your experiences. Mental health experts at the Wellness Center can give support to FG students.
- Be friendly! Introduce yourself to people in your classes and exchange contact information. You never know who could be a future study friend, or even a friend outside of class.
- Participate in class as much as possible. Sit in the front and communicate with your professors in and out of class as much as possible.
- Use any and all resources. McDaniel offers a variety of student-geared resources on campus.
- Prepare yourself for harder classes. College classes are an entirely different experience and adjusting to them can be difficult.
- Your grades may take a downward dip in the first semester. This is normal. Work with your professors as much as possible to get them back up.
- Maintain a balance. FG students have a lot to manage. Get organized, manage your time, and create a schedule for yourself.
- Patience is important. Adjusting to college life takes time; it won’t happen immediately.
“[First generation students] have many resources on campus and people that can understand. Talking about the experience can be transformative. I would encourage them to share their experience with another first generation college student and get help from an on campus resource,” added MacDougall.
For more information on resources available to help First Generation students, see Erin MacDougall from the Wellness Center