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3 Success Tips for First-Generation College Students

Starting college is hard. Whether you’re living at home or halfway across the country from where you grew up, your first year of college can be overwhelming.

There will be unexpected difficulties, new people to interact with, and plenty of studying to be done. For a first-generation college student, the transition to a new school can be especially overwhelming. If your parents didn’t attend college, it can be hard to imagine yourself making it through the next few years without giving up.

The good news is that it can be done! Many people have gone before you as a first-generation student and succeeded at their goals in life. You can do it too.

1. Lean on your support system.

The best thing you can do to set yourself up for success in college is finding a support system. You want your support system to be made up of people who are willing to offer advice and listen when you need to talk. Ideally, this would include a mentor, someone older than you that has already earned his or her degree and can offer a mature perspective on your career path and life goals.

This is also where making new friends comes into play. You need to spend time with people who are in the trenches with you, so you don’t feel alone and tempted to give up. Talk to people in your dorm, friend your classmates on Facebook, and in general, try to listen to the people around you and develop bonds that will carry over outside of the classroom.

2. Build yourself up.

You wouldn’t have gotten this far if you weren’t capable of success. Your decision to forge a path unique from that of your parents shows ingenuity and drive. Think back on your accomplishments from high school, whether they were social, academic, or creative. You reached those milestones because you had the qualities you needed to succeed.

In some instances, you developed skills during challenges and put them into practice, learning as you went along. To succeed, you must first have a small inkling that you can overcome the obstacles you face. It’s hard to succeed if you simply don’t believe you can. Don’t doubt yourself. You’ve already overcome challenges in your life, so let yourself rest in the fact that you are the kind of person who can win at life. You’ve done it before. Every new situation is an opportunity to win on an even bigger scale.

3. Take time to relax.

Let yourself off the hook. It’s great to work had in college, but it’s possible to overwork yourself. Be judicious when saying yes to opportunities. Most people can handle being stretched thin for a few days, but after that, it’s hard to avoid burnout and keep delivering on your obligations.

Say yes to tasks that will energize you – exciting internships, challenging classes, or fun extracurricular events with friends – but keep your eyes on the big picture and don’t overextend yourself. Overworking is bad for both your mental and physical health, and future you will thank you for learning your boundaries early on and only challenging them when it seems right.

First-generation students often feel added stress as they begin college, but that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome and have a happy college experience. All you need to do is learn what you’re capable of and put it into practice. Don’t forget how important community is in your life and remember to reach out to the people around you for support. Cut yourself a break when you need it, so you don’t run yourself into a rut. College is hard, and a short article offering encouragement isn’t going to solve all the problems you’ll face in the next four years, but hopefully, these words help you remember that you’re not alone.


By Jeanna Paden

Jeanna Paden is a freelance writer from Memphis with work published by The Financial Diet, Hannah Ashton Content, and others. As a first-generation college student, she earned her BA in English from the University of Memphis in 2016. She has worked in publishing and education, and hopes to pursue writing and editing full time in the future. Connect with her here on Twitter.

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