“You are a first-generation student? Are you sure?” sophomore Jessica Ackman said when I told her I was asked to be a panelist for the First-Generation student panel Olivet hosted last week.
Surprisingly, a lot of my friends and peers were in awe when I told them I was the first person in my family to attend a four-year university. I never knew how uncommon it was, I thought it was normal for your parents to not have graduated college or even your grandparents not finishing high school. That was the family I grew up in, and I never realized how different it might be.
When asked to join the panel, I wasn’t sure what exactly I was going to talk about. Jorge Bonilla, Retention Coordinator in the Center for Student Success, sent us a list of questions to get panelists thinking about their struggles of being a first-generation student; but I did not know of any, simply because I did not know how my experience differed from others’. Yeah, I applied to multiple colleges by myself and went on all visits alone or with my friends. I even applied for FAFSA alone but never knew that these things were not normal.
I went through my entire college searching process with Jessica Ackman: we visited Olivet together, went to orientation together, set up our scheduled together without any help from our parents. We never really understood that our parents were supposed to be along side us through this whole thing.
I always have been very proactive, doing research and asking questions about what to do next, which definitely helped me along the process. But I did have someone to go through the process with although she may have known less than I did. Yet, she was still there when I needed her and having that support system is very important.
Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it and if you still do not understand after the answer has been given, it’s okay to ask again.
“I probably would not be here without you. I would still be trying to figure out FAFSA,” Ackman said.
Being the first person to go through the college process was hard because I did not have any sort of help, I still don’t. But being able to help others and tell my story in chance that it may encourage someone else ask for assistance or even ask me how to apply for classes or make a four-year plan is totally worth it. I am honored to go through this stressful process because I hope to be in assistance to someone that is in the shoes I was in last year and help them pull through and give them the information they need to succeed.
— Nicole Pilbeam, Life & Culture Editor