First-generation students share experiences

Photo Illustration by Luc Stringer | Banner | First-generation students can face hardships and obstacles while attending university, but their experiences help lead them into the future.

Going to college is not a universal rite of passage for every family. Many people either enter a trade school, pursue a job directly or simply end their education after high school. 

Statistics show that nearly 43% of high school graduates (as of 2018) choose to not attend college. However, many young men and women choose to break this trend in their families and commit themselves to higher education, thus becoming first-generation college students. Many students at California Baptist University are part of that first generation who pioneer new territory in opportunities for themselves and their families.

Valeria Ramirez, sophomore photography major, said there are both positives and negatives to being a first-generation college student and that there can be certain rewards and challenges unique to their experience.

“I would say it’s a mixture of an awesome and overwhelming feeling. It’s like, ‘Cool! I’m a first-gen!’ But then, it’s like, ‘Oh geez, I’m a first-gen,’” said Ramirez. “There are pros and cons about it: Some pros are that first-generation college students inspire other and future first-generations, which is an amazing feeling to have. On the other hand, some cons are that all future first-generation college students are looking up to you, especially right now. One thing that you don’t want to do is fail or become a disappointment, which is not a pretty feeling to have. But that’s not what I came to college for. I came to do what I needed to do, and I just have to remind myself that.”

Being the first individual in your family to conquer the challenges of college is no easy task. Trials and hardships come often and more frequently than for students who have a family history of attending university. Even for students whose family members have received a college education later in life, the burden of graduating in a traditional, four-year setting stills rests on their shoulders.

Phoebe Arevalo, junior communications and philosophy double major, voiced her experiences thus far in being the first member of her family to graduate from a four-year college traditionally.

“Going to college has helped me to expand my horizon. By that I mean I am expanding the way I think, view the world, my beliefs, the relationships I have and the world I interact with,” Arevalo said. “It’s opened doors for me and it’s helped me to know that I will, God willing, have a stable career that I love. Going to school, getting scholarships and working has helped open new doors that allow for connections and help finance my education. 

Getting a higher education has also helped to expand my view on the world because it is not limited to my immediate community.”

CBU provides an opportunity for community for first generation students to  feel welcome. Natalie Specht, residence director at Tower Hall, recounted her experiences with first generation students, and how their strength has positively influenced her over the years.

“I’ve worked with a variety of first-gen college students over my experience as a professional in higher education,” said Specht. “It is such a great learning opportunity to walk alongside those who are the first in their family to go off to college. 

I’ve enjoyed the ownership these students take into their college experiences. They want to get the most out of their years in college by seeking opportunities to learn outside of the classroom and be involved in the community here at CBU.”

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