Securing the Degree: First Generation College Student Edition.

“Can you help me with my resume?” words vulnerably asked by my grandmother.  

Being the first to attend and graduate from college means a lot, especially in a black household. I am the student who was loved and nurtured in a three-generation household with little money, surrounded by the strength of my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother who each labored blue-collar jobs from dusk till dawn.

College was never discussed in our duplex home, but the importance of having an education was heavily stressed from my tribe. As I reflect back on my journey, right now, I have more education than my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents combined. That’s a blessing,  burden, and responsibility to uphold. I have beat a lot of odds that never should have been stacked against me, to begin with. Thus, I am highly indebted to my tribe for selflessly grooming me into the formally educated woman I am today. 

So, to the first generation college student who’s stuck between a rock and hard place; here are some tidbits from what I have learned throughout my matriculation:

  •  Minimize student loans at all cost. Don’t just sign off on receiving money just because the government says you qualify. Search for more merit-based scholarships. And if you’re that student who doesn’t qualify for merit-based scholarships due to test scores; consider your local community college and transfer those credits to a university.   
  • Choose to live at home with your parents//guardian, in off-campus housing, or sign up to be a campus RA (Resident Advisor). 
  • Prepare meals for yourself instead of using your campus meal plan. 
  • Never buy new books. By any means necessary purchase used books from Chegg, Amazon, Thriftbooks, campus library, borrowing from upperclassmen or finding them online by searching the pdf. 
  • Take advantage of Federal Work Study (if you qualify). Although the hours are no more than 10-20 per week; a little cash is better than none at all.

In a nutshell, assess your monetary value. Be smart now, because you don’t want your loans to forbid you from making big-ticket purchases such as a car or house down the road. Credit and loan companies do pry into a person’s debt to income ratio to determine if they qualify for their purchase. Your total debt should not exceed 1 year of your college/university tuition cost. For example, a student studying for a job that pays $45k should not have $100k in loans, especially as an undergraduate student. 

No one prepares you for life after college. Truth be told, it’s a dog-eat-dog world you’re embarking on (or currently in, welcome!). Start now by tailoring your career. Build those contacts with your professors, upperclassmen, and even alumni association. Apply for internships that align with your respective career fields. Utilize your campus career service office semesterly. Join an organization that not only benefits you socially but professionally.

The key to a degree shouldn’t be a secret nor struggle. Thus, a quality education is not synonymous with becoming a doctor or lawyer (in my case). Relentlessly pursue your passions and perfect your craft, because in due time success will find you. 

Take heed and stay the course. 

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Image: Obama White House Archives    

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