The Blessings of Being a First Generation College Student

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I am a first generation college student and I can honestly say I am VERY proud of this.  Being a first generation college student means that my parents did not attend or receive a post-secondary college degree. I was also the first in my family to graduate with a high school diploma, and soon I will be the first to graduate from Iowa State University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications!  Iowa State University has given me so many opportunities to share my voice through my leadership roles on campus.

My parents came to the U.S. from Mexico and they did not have the opportunity to attend college. I had to learn about FAFSA, college applications, and scholarships all by myself. I had no one to go to for advice when applying for college, I just knew I had to attend.

If you are a first generation college student, or even first to graduate from high school, know that your story is important.

For most of my experience I always focused on the struggles of being first-generation. But now that I am 3 semesters away from graduating from ISU, I am reflecting on how blessed I was to have so many opportunities to learn from.

Here are a few “blessings” of being a first generation college student that I gathered through my personal experience at Iowa State University and the experiences of other first generation students.

1)      Learning to do (almost) everything on my own

Because I was the first of my family to do so many things, I did struggle to understand the process of applying to college and applying for scholarships. I had no clue FAFSA existed until my senior year of high school. The fact that I learned how to do everything on my own gave me so much confidence when it was my sister’s turn to apply, and of course I encouraged her to apply to Iowa State. I have even helped out my friends and cousins apply for FAFSA and different schools. Knowing that I helped someone become closer to their goals and dreams makes me SO proud of being a first generation student. If I can do it, so can you.

2)      T.R.I.O.

T.R.I.O. is a U.S. federal program that helps increase access to higher education for economically disadvantaged students. I have been a part of T.R.I.O. since high school and I still am in college. Here at Iowa State we have SSSP, or Student Services Support Program. My experience at Iowa State would definitely not be the same if I was not part of this program. SSSP is my home away from home. Every day I see people who I can connect with, because just as me, most are first-generation college students as well. T.R.I.O. is definitely a blessing when it comes to having that support system when applying and attending college.

3) Knowing you’re the FIRST

The feeling of accomplishment I get knowing I will be the first to graduate from Iowa State University is so incredibly amazing. Iowa State has so many great opportunities for all students, regardless of your background. I have grown as a person and as a student leader through my involvement in campus organizations:  President of Latino Student Initiatives, Student Services Support Program, BOLD Peer Mentor, Multicultural Vision Program Scholar, National Conference on Race and Ethnicity Scholar, Revival, and ISUtv. Translating those feelings and experiences to my parents is difficult, but I know they are so proud of me.

4)      Scholarships!

When I was applying for college, I knew that I didn’t have the financial resources to pay for college so I searched and applied for scholarships. Because Iowa State is a land-grant institution, this university gives opportunities for students who are underrepresented. Every year, Iowa State awards 100 Multicultural Vision Program (MVP) scholarships. MVP is a full-tuition scholarship awarded to multicultural students who demonstrate financial need and who have faced personal and/or financial hardships. MVP covers my tuition for 8 semesters. I had to EARN this scholarship as a high school senior by finding references for letters of recommendation, writing an essay, and explaining why I wanted to attend Iowa State. As a current MVP Scholar, I have to maintain above a 2.00 GPA, enroll as a full-time student, and complete 24 credit hours each academic school year. This experience taught me that if I want something to happen, I have to WORK for it.

The hardships students like me go through may at first be seen as negative experiences, but in reality one grows so much from being immersed into a culture no one you know has experienced. I can honestly say that even though I may have face discouraging and difficult experiences, those experiences made me a better student and person. Iowa State University has given me and continues to give me the complete college experience.

At Iowa State, I have been able to connect with first-generation students like me through the Latino Leadership Retreat, which I actually had the chance to plan and facilitate the past two years.

Posted By: Jazmin Murguia