While watching Aziz Ansari’s new show “Master of None,” I came across an episode that reminded me of the unique circumstances I experience as a first-generation college student. “Parents,” the second episode of the season, is totally spot-on for first-generation millennials in school and just in general.
Carrying the weight of your family on your shoulders
As first-generation college students, we’re told that attending college is a great honor for our family — and it’s hard to forget the amount of pressure that comes with that. Getting a C in a class is totally different for our non-first-generation friends, who will probably shrug off the grade and move on to the next semester. But for us, a C means a lower GPA, which means our scholarships are in jeopardy, which means no money to attend school, which means dropping out, which means bringing dishonor to our family name! Maybe a little Mulan, but you get the idea.
Courtesy of Giphy.
Praise doesn't come easy
There’s just something about having parents who are immigrants that makes expressing praise a little ... well, weird.
Since our parents never attended college, they don’t understand how the system works. The dreadful hours I spend writing an essay seem like child's play when my dad tells me about his days picking lettuce under the brutal sun every day as a teenager.
Their idea of hard work isn’t studying eight hours straight, it’s manual labor under the sun, or the factory job they had as a teenager. So when first-generation college students like me tell our parents we scored a B+ on an exam for organic chemistry, we’re met with “Why didn’t you get an A?”
The constant reminder of being a first-generation college student
There's a golden rule among first-generation students: Don't complain to your parents about school.
We often forget how different things were for our parents economically, socially, and politically. The drastic life changes that our parents have gone through are nearly impossible to imagine.
I can LITERALLY relate to this.
Academics are all that matter
Our parents totally judge us for neglecting our studies to have a social life. To them, leisure time seems like a distraction, and the word "fun" means "I'm partying nonstop and failing out of college."
While we, the students, know that college is about more than just academics, our parents can’t always relate to the idea of taking time off to enjoy ourselves. My parents would much rather hear that I am staying in on a Friday night to study for a big exam than going out with a group of friends.
A good education means becoming a doctor or lawyer
Courtesy of Giphy.
I can't even begin to count the number of times my parents asked me to study medicine or law, while simultaneously guilt-tripping me about their sacrifices and dreams that led to this point.
God forbid we have interests other than math and science, right? I remember the first time I told my parents I declared political science as my major. Their response? "What the heck is that? Does that mean you can be a lawyer?"
For first-generation college students, it’s ingrained in our minds at a small age that the greatest careers are in law or medicine. By the time we start applying to colleges, it almost feels wrong to choose something we might actually be interested in.
Calling your parents once a week
As a first-generation college student, our parents constantly remind us how dependent we were on them up until this point. Remember disobeying your parents as a kid and being threatened with the fact that they pay your bills and feed you? College is no different.
The conditions of my parents helping me out financially in college were simple: Call at least once a week so we know you’re not dead.
Our parents aren’t used to us being far away. Living alone is a foreign idea to some parents of first-generation students, many of whom lived with their extended family — which is why calling once a week is important for putting their nerves at ease.
You have something more to work for
Being the first in your family to attend college means a lot. While the weight of our parents' hard work may feel like a burden, being a first-generation college student gives us an edge over our peers. We know first-hand that not everyone is able to attend college, which gives us incentive to work extra hard.
We often find ourselves working not only for our degree, but for the approval of our family.
The constant check-ups, scolding, and awkward misunderstandings all add up to the fact that our parents just want the best for us. And we often forget to take the time to thank our parents for getting us to where we are.
So, here’s to every parent of a first-generation college student. May we all be worthy of your sacrifices someday.
Use our Scholarship Match to find scholarships for first-generation students, or whatever your unique circumstances may be.
About the author
Cecilia is a public relations major at the University of Florida. Her hometown is in south Florida, in the small town of Clewiston, and she’s ready to make her mark. “Not only am I learning to adjust to a bigger city, but all of the adventures this big university brings along with it.” You can follow her adventures right here on Unigo!
As a first-generation college student, going up against thousands of other college applicants might seem intimidating. Here are some tips for how you can stand out on your application.
Determine if you have first-generation status at this school. Colleges have different definitions of first-generation. Some consider students whose parents who never attended any post-secondary institution as first-generation students. Others will consider students whose parents attended a two-year institution to be first-generation. Colleges also consider you to be a first-generation student if your parents didn’t attend college, but your siblings did.
Be authentic. When you are answering questions on the application, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Keep the writing clear and precise. There’s no need to break out a thesaurus. Use simple language when you are explaining your academic/career goals and why you want to attend this specific college.
Let your experiences shine in your application essay. Your college application essay is the best place for you to share your experiences. If you are able to select your own topic, write about a personal experience that highlights the struggles you have overcome as a first-generation student. If you are unable to pick the essay topic, just make sure you find a way to tie back the essay to your life. Admissions officers want a well-rounded student body. Show them why you are unique.
Have your mentor check over your application. Your mentor has been through the college application process. He or she will know what a college admissions officer is looking for. This person also should know you. Your mentor should be able to give you tips as to what personality traits and life experiences you should highlight in your college application.