Getting into college and making it through can be hard no matter what your circumstances. But for first-generation students — the first in their families to attend college — the challenges are even greater because they must tackle them largely on their own. Students whose parents have gone to college can draw on that experience, perhaps talking to them about filling out applications or picking a major. Many college-educated parents also help their children financially, or provide a cushion if things go awry.
But, said Dr. Michael V. Drake, president of Ohio State University, a lot of first-generation students have feelings of doubts of whether they really belong. They can’t call home and ask their parents how college was for them. “I think all those things that pertain to being the first anyone who’s doing something, you really are a pioneer,” Dr. Drake said. “That can be exhilarating, but it can be a little unnerving.”
The New York Times asked five first-generation journalism students to interview other first-generation students at their colleges about the challenges they have faced.
Even though Autumn received the Gates Millennium Scholarship and could go to virtually any university in the country, she chose to stay close to home.
“I made good grades in high school, I graduated at the top of my class, and I felt like going to college was an expectation for me,” she said. “But I realized as I was getting closer that it was not as easy as I thought it would be, especially paying for it. If I didn’t have my scholarship, I don’t know how I would have handled it.
“My dad would sit me down and have talks about where I wanted to go to school, but with me feeling like I had to do most of it on my own, I chose Oklahoma State University because it was easy to get to. I felt like if I went to O.S.U., I could bring more awareness to Native Americans in college. The Pawnee tribe is 30 minutes away, so I felt like I could come here and with my last name, I could bring more awareness. That was my mission whenever I came here.”
Only A Chief graduated in May from nutritional sciences with an option in allied health and plans to pursue a degree in physical therapy at the University of Southern California. She was named a Senior of Significance by the OSU Alumni Association and a Top 10 Senior in Nutritional Sciences.