Advice Every First Generation College Student Needs to Hear

If you had to choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be? One of the words that I would choose is first. I am the first born and girl of my family, first generation American, first to move away from home, first generation college student, and first to aspire to be a doctor. Although it is an incredible privilege to be the first for these things in my family, it does come with its challenges. In this post, I’m going to talk about how being a first generation, Filipino, pre-med student has shaped my college experience. I’ve always wanted my blog to be a platform where I can share my experiences in hopes of helping someone, so I’m going to be transparent about the challenges I’ve faced and ways I’m overcoming them! Honestly, I’ve never shared something this personal before and am kind of nervous! I truly hope that this helps you.

first generation student is commonly defined as a student whose parents did not complete four years in college. However, this definition fails to provide the whole picture of what a first generation student has to go through. Although I can’t speak for everyone, in my experience, being first gen means feeling a self-induced pressure to rise to the very top in hopes of so many different things. In hopes that you will make your family proud and that you will achieve higher things despite your background. Being a first gen student also means feeling unsure about what classes to enroll in, what opportunities to look for in college, and what path to take in order to succeed. It means not always having family to go to for academic help and feeling like you have to navigate through college alone. It means being determined to figure things out yourself in hopes that one day your younger brother and cousins won’t have to go through the same obstacles.

Along with being first gen, I am Filipino, an ethnicity that makes up 5% of my university’s demographic. As a minority in such a diverse environment, I understand what it’s like to rarely see someone that looks like you or remind you of home. For the past three years, I miss hearing Tagalog, having people to crack corny, Filipino jokes with, and eating traditional Filipino dishes (pinakbet, munggo, palabok, you name it). Imagine being in a huge environment where everyone’s different from you, and you don’t have that sense of community. It’s inevitable to feel like you’re alone. Feelings of belongingness can be a huge factor in a student’s academic success and emotional well being. If you’re reading this and you’re a minority at school, I know what you’re going through.

Describing what it’s like to be pre-med can be an entirely separate post, but I can give you an idea. The pre-med track is more than just taking some of the hardest classes on campus. It’s also about assuming leadership roles in student organizations, volunteering in one’s community, working in research, and gaining medical experience. Yup! All while being expected to get straight A’s.

Even though these obstacles exist for me, they do not define my future. I believe that the challenges of having to navigate through college alone has helped me become more resourceful, independent, and driven. I know that these qualities are part of the reason why I’m here today as a: third year graduating a year early with good grades, a job at one of the few national cancer centers, and co-president of an amazing student org. I’m not telling you all this for pity or praise, but to remind you that no matter what you think your setbacks are, you can overcome them and achieve your dreams.

(peep the UCSD School of Medicine behind me! it’s the dream!)

If you’re a first-gen student

  • First off, you deserve to be a student here on campus. Do not ever feel like your family’s background makes you unqualified to be receiving this education.
  • If you’re struggling or confused, do not give up! It’s okay to ask questions. Email your professors or TAs for questions about class. Go to office hours. Schedule an appointment with your academic advisors when you don’t know what courses to take. Campus has so many resources available for students in our situation. We just need to take the initiative to look for them!
  • Need extra tutoring? It’s most likely that your campus provides free tutoring for students! Take advantage of this because you’re paying for it in tuition. At UCSD, we have the TLC and OASIS which provides weekly workshops led by students that go over the content that you learn in lecture. These students have already taken the class and know exactly what you need to know to succeed!
    • In my second year of college, I took an organic chemistry class with a professor whose teaching style was super confusing for me. I ended up going to an OASIS workshop, where I learned more effectively and ended up doing well in the class!
    • Fun fact: I’m going to be teaching my third workshop next quarter as an organic chemistry facilitator! Here is a pic of my general chemistry workshop that I taught during the summer.

  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to your family and friends. Even though your family might not be able to provide academic help, they can give you emotional support, which is just as important in college. Just being able to vent out your frustrations will help release some of your stress. And honestly, knowing that there are people who are rooting for you is always that one push that keeps you going.
    • Below is a pic of my brother (most left) and cousins! Even though we live hundreds of miles away, I know that they are there for me always.

  • Join student orgs! One of my biggest regrets of freshman year of college is not joining student orgs. Student orgs are a great way to meet people who have similar interests as you, and they also provide a lot of helpful opportunities/academic resources.
    • Depending on which org you join, these opportunities may include a mentor/mentee programs or big/little families. Having a mentor or big is beneficial because they can give you advice since they already know what you’re going through. Student orgs can also offer volunteer opportunities, events related to your field or career path, and a sense of community in such a big campus.
  • Google, Reddit, and are your best friends. Trust me, these three have come in clutch for all my questions about which professors to take, the best/easiest courses for my GEs and major, and other random questions about college.

If you feel alone on campus…

  • You’re not the only one who feels this way. College is very different from home and full of diverse people, so most students end up feeling lost at some point. This is one of the reasons why there are a lot of student organizations on campus! Try to join an org that you can identify with, whether it be your ethnicity, race, religion, career path, or interests. Once you’ve found an org, it’s important that you attend events consistently so that you can get to know other members and hopefully make some friends!
    • For the past two years, I’ve been involved in Healing Hands, a homeless and medically underserved community service org. Through volunteering and attending events in this org, I’ve met some of the most hardworking and kind people who truly care about helping other students and their community. Here’s a pic of my sweet fellow officers this year. <3

  • Take a heritage language class!
    • This quarter, I took a Tagalog class that is meant for students who understand the language and grew up hearing it but cannot necessarily speak or write. One of the reasons why I loved this class was because my professor would always say jokes in Tagalog or reference something that reminded me of my family. Also, it was the first time where I was in a room where I was surrounded by people of the same culture as me, which was really reassuring for me. I also made a really sweet friend, Carissa, in the class!
    • My professor in the very left insisted that we take pictures using his digital camera. It was so cute and very Filipino lol!

  • Take the initiative to get to know people that you live with. This advice probably applies more to those who live on campus, but it’s honestly one of the best ways to make friends because you see them everyday unlike classmates. Even though there’s a chance that you won’t click with the people you live with, it doesn’t hurt to try to put yourself out there.
    • If you’ve been reading my blog posts since the start of college, you know that during my freshmen year I chose to live with random people on my floor. Although I was nervous about this, I was blessed with some of the sweetest people. The girls in my room and suite and a couple of guys on my floor formed a little friend group. I went on to live with some of them during my second year and in in this third year, we still hang out whenever we’re free.

  • Wait it out. It takes time to adjust to a new environment, to meet the right people, and to get to know how they truly are. Even though I met some amazing friends my freshman year, it took all of us some time to get to know each other and become close. Most importantly, finding your circle takes initiative on your part. I had to find Healing Hands and my Tagalog class and be an active participant before I felt a sense of belonging. Trust me on this because I’ve felt the same way as you, and things are only now starting to fall in place after three years of college! Only time will tell, but don’t give up.

If you’re pre-med…

  • Come back soon because I’m going to have a separate post about all the things I wish I knew about being pre-med! 🙂

Thank you so much for reading! I really hope that this post helped you in some way. Let me know if it did!

blaze ann