Pack Your PomPoms – Transitioning to College as a First Generation Student

“I didn’t know it was going to be this hard”, I began to explain to my freshmen roommate. “I chose Carleton because I wanted a challenge, but I feel like I am behind in comparison to everyone else”. I believed this until the end of my sophomore year.

I attend a college in which most of my classmates graduated from some of the best high schools in the country—classmates whose parents are lawyers, doctors, CEOs, etc. In a social setting such as this one, it was almost inevitable that I would compare myself to the rest of the students. Being a minority both culturally and economically, and being a first generation college student, I often times questioned my competency at performing well at Carleton. I felt that I was not as prepared as my peers to navigate this institution.

When I went to office hours, I would explain to my professors that I was struggling to adjust to college, especially because I was a first generation college student. I explained to them that I needed a lot of help in order to succeed academically. When I would explain my situation, they did not seem to make a big deal out of it. Some of my professors responded.

“And you think it has been easy for me? I was also the first in my family to go to college and it was hard. It is not an easy task. And look where I am now. You can’t keep making excuses in life. You are just as capable of doing the work as any of the other students at Carleton. You were accepted because you deserve to be here. It may be harder for you, but it does not mean it is impossible. You just have to do your best, and that will have to suffice”.

My professors have always been supportive. Their tough love has taught me that I should keep in mind that I am a first generation college student, but that I should not let that get in the way of me performing well. What I am trying to say is that being first generation college student could have a positive, empowering connotation rather than a negative one. Being a first generation college student could mean being a student who is independent, a student who is willing to overcome whatever challenges cross his/her path, a student who is resilient and who is willing to succeed despite the odds, and a student who is diligent and is willing to play on a level plane with the rest of his/her peers.

A last thing that I learned that I wish I had known from the start of my freshmen year is that the transition into college is hard for everyone. Some are better at disguising their fears than others. We all have doubts of our capabilities whether we are first generation college students or not. But we have to learn to trust ourselves and truly believe that we deserve to be in our respective colleges. I have come to believe that I deserve to be at Carleton and although it will be a tough next two years, I will continue to explore and navigate the system in order to excel.

We are all competent. We just have to be our biggest cheerleaders.

By: Olgaby Martinez

Carleton College ‘16