As college students, many of us see our peers and fellow students as just that: other students. We often don’t think about their backgrounds or demographics, whether that be where they are from, what their household income is, or if they are the first in their families to attend college. However, there is a likely chance that many of the students surrounding you are actually first-generation college students. In fact, 35% of all undergraduate students are first-generation!
The Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI) defines a “first-generation” college student as one whose parents never obtained a Bachelor’s Degree. While this may seem like an insignificant characteristic to some people, it can be an important part of a first-generation college student’s identity. What is not often realized by others are the struggles and obstacles that first-generation students face to fulfill their dreams of earning a college degree. To dive deeper into the life of a first-generation student, I interviewed UBWA’s Vice President of Member Relations, Autumn Crum, who is a third-year marketing student minoring in history of art here at OSU. Autumn noted the struggles she had while applying for college due to the fact that she didn’t have many people to turn to for help. “When it came to applications, scholarships, and even filling out the FAFSA, it was something I had to navigate alone,” Autumn stated. This lack of guidance can be discouraging for incoming college students. Pertaining particularly to the business world, Autumn mentioned the difficulties as a first-generation college student in business, such as not knowing exactly what the corporate world entails. “... I didn’t have a parent, relative, or family friend that worked a corporate job that I could connect with,” she revealed.
Whereas other students may believe attending college is a given in their academic/career path, it can take a lot of courage for first-generation college students to make the decision to attend. It can be scary, uncomfortable, and intimidating, especially when there is not a strong support system to guide you. For first-generation students, finding a legitimate source for advice can be a challenge. Autumn stated that her sister, Katie, is the person she turns to in these situations. “Katie has always been such a great supporter of me and has pushed me when I feel discouraged about myself,” she says. Finding your support system, whether that be siblings, professors, or friends, is important for first-generation college students. When I asked Autumn what her main piece of advice was for other young first-generation businesswomen, this is what she recommended most: “I would suggest if you are struggling or confused about college or future careers, find a network of support”. Sometimes, you need that little extra push when you are feeling disheartened, which is where your mentors or close friends can play an important role.
Autumn emphasized the value of putting yourself out there in college. This can sound intimidating or frightening, but it’s what makes you a better student and businesswoman. As a first-generation student, it can be frightening to speak up or try something new. Attending college can mean moving out of your comfort zone for many people. So how can you move outside of your comfortability even more? Autumn stated “College is the best time in your life to take risks, try new things, and meet new people”. She also looked back on the time that she participated in a case competition through UBWA and noted that it was intimidating, but it ultimately gave her confidence and practice.
As if college life isn’t hard enough, first-generation students walk into this new period of their life blindly. However, through these struggles, they show perseverance, strength, and determination. Some of the hardest years of your life can also be the best. I wanted to highlight Autumn’s parting words, which I found inspiring:
“Don’t be afraid, do the things you’re intimidated by, and you’ll learn so much about yourself along the way."