Campus Cope: First-generation students

As UCR’s student population continues to rise, it is important to keep in mind that more than half of undergraduates are first-generation students, who face their own unique set of problems. For example, parents of first-generation students tend to be inexperienced in college matters and may misunderstand the time and effort that goes into university academics. 

You may end up feeling pressured to do good in school in order to financially support your family in the future. In the worst-case scenario, a lack of proper emotional support may result in students unable to complete classes or dropping out entirely. 

In these moments of stress, you must face your family and be honest with how it impacts you to lessen the burden you feel. You must be able to tell your family that even if they hold their own ideas about your education, it might not be what you want as a college student. Loved ones can find other ways of support that will help motivate your pursuit of education and other personal goals.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is an on-campus facility that provides counseling and mental health resources. If you’re struggling with a long distance from your family, try to visit them more often; it’s a great way to stay connected to them. I know of many students on campus that take weekends to go home to be around family.

Being a first-gen student can result in a lack of guidance from family members. You have the unique challenge of adjusting to the new terrain that comes with enrollment at a university. This makes first-generation students feel like they have to figure everything out alone, which can become dangerous if you don’t ask for help when you need it. This discrepancy in outward expectations and what you know can lead to low academic self-esteem.

To combat this, use campus resources that are meant to assist students in navigating UCR. UCR has implemented many campus resources in line with the UCR First Year Initiative, established “with the intention of identifying first-generation faculty to serve as role models for  first-gen students” according to UCR News. This includes the Academic Resource Center which is set to provide academic support, tutoring and mentoring to students. These services include Tutorial Assistance Program and Supplemental Instruction which helps support students academically. Additionally, CHASS has programs that are specifically designed to help first-year students adjust to schools, such as Fall Transitions and HASS 001.

The feeling of being out of place in college may come from the differences in background and socioeconomic status between you and your peers. For many first-generation students, it’s common for them to have grown up in a community where they are seen as the majority. First-generation students, therefore, lean toward associating with people who share the same cultural background for a large portion of their lives. Due to this, there is limited communication and interactions among peers from different backgrounds. 

Culture shock seems to be a big issue that first-gen students face; the first step to acclimating is educating yourself on other backgrounds. Being open to new experiences can connect you to like-minded people, even if they don’t seem so at first. Forming friendships takes communication, holding honest conversations with an open mind and being thoughtful of others. You will then discover more about others, which will widen your view of the world.

You may also feel lost about your path in school, in which case, reach out to older peer mentors. A mentor will be more familiar with life and the path you want to pursue. Asking them questions about their own experiences may open you up to other career paths. 

There are many peer mentor groups on campus that may be what you are seeking to get by in college. Some of these include CHASS F1RST, the CNAS Scholar Peer Mentor, First Year Mentor Program and Chicano Link Peer Mentor Program. Some groups also focus solely on specific communities, like the Chicano Link Program. 

As a vital member of this campus community, you should use the resources and assistance needed to make your years as a Highlander fulfilling. It might appear terrifying, but keep in mind that the struggles of being a first-generation college student are shared by many. You are never alone in this sense because there will always be others who can share ways they overcame their struggles.

 

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