Problems Faced by First-Generation College Students

Have you ever needed to translate an important legal school document for your parents as a child? Well, it looks like you’re a first-generation student.

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Carly Henriquez, first to graduate college from her family | Photo taken by Sunah E. Choudhry

My parents migrated from El Salvador after their civil war that perpetuated the financial poverty for many of their citizens. For my father, he was one of the oldest siblings who needed to provide for his eleven siblings and parents. For my mother, she had no financial funds to attend high school due to her family’s circumstances. Both had to provide the necessities for their well-being and their family’s well-being.

A few years later, they met in The United States and decided to begin their life together by getting married and having their children here.

Being the oldest sibling out of my family I had to take the responsibility of navigating my parents through language-barrier situations. Ever since I can remember, I recall having to attend my parent-teacher conferences and needing to translate to my parents how well I was doing in school.
Being a first-generation student meant I had to learn everything about the educational system, the college application process, and worry about the finances by myself.

Growing up I had always thought this was normal.

My parents didn’t graduate high school because they grew up in a third-world country where education is a privilege.

Having the luxury of the first-generation student meant I am fortunate to receive all of these resources and educate myself further. Since I became the first one to graduate high school, I shared my experiences and knowledge to them regarding the process of what it takes to apply for college, how to file for FAFSA, what grants/loans/scholarships were, and how to take the S.A.T.

We were both learning together and I always wanted them to be informed on what was going on so they can have second-hand knowledge and advice to provide for my younger siblings.

I was able to afford college because my parents made a low-income and through that financial aid gave me grants to cover for the cost. In other terms, the government provided aid because my parents didn’t make enough to afford for me to attend college.

I will never be ashamed of where I came from because it’s part of my identity and the foundations of my success. I was competing against students who had parents with master degrees, parents who could provide connections and resources to their children for college, and students who had the luxury to attend any university because they were better financially well-off.

But against all odds, I was able to succeed. Being called a first-generation student means more than having parents who didn’t graduate college. Being a first-generation college student means facing the inequalities of the education system by yourself, making connections through your efforts, having both the pressure and privilege of leading by example, and proving to your community that you can excel no matter the circumstances.

I applaud all those who are in a similar position as me trying to break the cycle and continue to excel in their careers/profession along with representing their communities.

Upcoming Journalist writing about her interests and her insightful experiences. Production Assistant at MSNBC news.

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