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Navigating life as a first-generation college student

If you’re the first member of your family to go to college, it might be hard for your loved ones to imagine what your new life looks like. Maybe they’re afraid you’re leaving them behind. Or that they’re losing your help around the house or that extra time with them they love so much.
And it’s hard for you because the tensions involve the people you are used to turning to for help — your friends and family. You’re the one facing the biggest change, but they might need you to ease them through the transition.

1. Defuse it

Go ahead and acknowledge that it’s an emotional time and that it will take some time for everyone to get used to your new life as a college student.

2. Build a network

At first it may seem like you’ll never get the same kind of support from strangers as you do at home. Your classmates, professors and faculty advisors are in a much better position to understand how overwhelming the first two years of college can be. Take finding support for yourself as seriously as you would any other college-related task.

3. Recognize tensions may continue

Even as you become more independent and college broadens your horizons, loved ones at home may push you to stay close. You may have to defend your choices, gently but firmly. Know that you have a right to pursue a better future.

4. Carry the conversation

Without having experienced college themselves, your friends and relatives may not know what to ask you about your studies. Because it’s the most familiar to them, they may seem preoccupied with the time it’s taking and the money it costs. Share stories anyway. Talking about your life as a student is a way to maintain an emotional connection, even if they don’t have the first-hand experience.

5. Hard things will happen

When something goes wrong at home, it can be especially hard to remain engaged with your classes. Remember that your choice to pursue a college degree is in your family’s best interest..

6. Keep the end in mind

Remind everyone that there are long-term benefits to your decision to enroll in college and your commitment to do well there. You may be the first in your family to graduate, but that degree can help you reach your goals.

7. Be an inspiration

When you succeed, others see what’s possible. Younger members of your family — and especially your own children — will be more likely to begin preparing for college in high school, where it matters most. And they will be much more likely to enroll in a college or university and to earn a degree.