A First-Gen Playing Cards

I am a first generation college student. When I was in college, I didn’t know this. I had no concept of what first generation or “first-gen” even meant. Later, as a student affairs professional, I learned quite a bit about first generation college students…and how many of us there are.

Colleges and universities sometimes define “first generation” differently. Generally, if neither of your parents or guardians attended or completed college, you would be considered first-gen, meaning you are  within the first generation of your family to attend college. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 33% of college students are first gen. Within that population of students, there is a tremendous amount of diversity: race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, etc. Higher education professionals pay a lot of attention to first generation students because their rates of persistence to graduation is fairly lower than students who’ve had a parent or guardian complete college. In a very fundamental way, this makes logical sense.

Growing up, my father knew how to play cards. We played all the time. If he hadn’t shown me, sitting down at a card table for the first time, I would have been very confused. I may be able to learn some basics about how to shuffle and deal cards, or how to make the best of five random cards, but I wouldn’t understand the nuances of how to win or the complexity of betting. Being a first generation college student is the same thing. I have some general idea about how college works – I have to pay some money to go to school, I may not be able to go to the school I want to go to but don’t really understand why I can’t go there, I go to class (do I have to go to class if I don’t want to since I paid for the class?), maybe I live there….like a private boarding school (??), I graduate, and I get a job. That’s basically how this works, right??  If I had a parent or guardian who’d already done this, I would know A LOT more about college. I would know what to ask. I would know the difference between a loan, grant, and scholarship. I would know that it was ok to see my professor during office hours. I would know what a professor is. I would know that I have to apply for financial aid every year. I would know that it’s okay to ask for extra help in a class, and that there is a probably an office on campus whose function is to provide extra help.

Recently, Wentworth participated in a national day to celebrate first gen students. Many of our faculty and staff were first generation students in college; Dean Wenner and Dean Kosses are with me in the First Gen club. During the celebration, organized by the Center for Student Engagement and the Center for Diversity and Social Justice Programs, we collected advice for our current first generation students. Here is what folks offered:

  • Dream Big and never give up!
  • Do the research for getting scholarships and student loans. Don’t take out EVERY penny they offer.
  • Find a mentor. Build a relationship with your peers and professors!
  • It’s most likely going to be hard but it’ll 100% be worth it.
  • You are the start of a legacy! Remember that & don’t give up.
  • Ask questions. Help can be found in all kinds of places.
  • Ask all the questions! You never know who is wondering the same thing.
  • Make the most out of this experience and privilege; take this time to allow yourself to grow, and make a difference by guiding others by the same road.
  • You are amazing + will do great things!
  • Get involved!
  • Trata tu major (“Do your Best” in Spanish 😊)
  • You belong here. It may not feel like it but you do! Make friends. Find mentors. Enjoy!
  • Don’t set any limitations for yourself because you are you and you are AWESOME!
  • Find a home here, find a family here, so you can have an easier time paving your future towards a home and family of your own.
  • Your family supports you! Share your appreciation. Love them!
  • You’re doing amazing things. Keep it up & make the people you love proud!

First generation students have an opportunity to write an amazing story. We can’t wait to read all about it!!