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Making It Through College as a First-Generation College Student

"I am where I am today because of the support system I had that stuck by me and never gave up, even though I wanted to give up on myself at times."
Image: Trinity College
Trinity CollegeBob Handelman / Trinity College

Verlando Brown is a program coordinator at Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute. He is a first-generation college graduate and advocate for other first-generation students. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @BrownVerlando.

I am where I am today because of the support system I had that stuck by me and never gave up, even though I wanted to give up on myself at times.

When I was a first-generation undergraduate college student, the adjustment period during my first semester was tough to handle. Unfortunately I did not get the adequate preparation for college from my high school — not to talk down about the school at all, but just speaking the truth — so I had to learn everything on my own when it came to getting ready for college.

I felt I was lagging behind my non-first generation peers, who seemed to have everything together. I kept saying to myself, “Maybe I don’t belong here.”

What ultimately made me not drop out was my support system. I was able to develop relationships with other students who’ve become lifelong friends, and staff members in the Student Affairs field who became mentors and an added network of support. I said to myself that I WILL make it through college, graduate, and not give up on myself. I also told myself that I belong here on this college campus just as much as the next person, and that I am going places. My support system helped me erase the negative thinking and replace it with positive thinking about myself. My confidence level was regained and I said to myself “I CAN do this” once a challenge arises.

For other first-generation college students out there who may feel alone, hopeless, or not sure of what to do as they embark on the college path, I want to offer some advice:

Tell yourself you belong in college and that you WILL succeed

Don’t let negative thinking enter your mind. Know that you have every right to be on that college campus and are just as intelligent as your peers. You have come so far and overcome tremendous odds of breaking the cycle by becoming the first in your family attending. This is such a HUGE accomplishment. This says so much about you, about how much you want to achieve in life. You are destined for greatness.

Formulate study groups

Connect with like-minded individuals in your classroom or around campus. This can help you study and prepare for tests, quizzes, term papers, and other projects. Study groups can also create bonds that become long-standing friendships, where you are there for each other beyond academics.

Keep persevering

Let’s be honest, college is not easy at all; if it were, then everyone would be doing it. Getting to and finishing college takes a person with the will, determination, and drive to take their education and career to high levels. As a first-generation college student, you are the type that wants to achieve so much in life. No matter how challenging college may get along the way, DO NOT give up on yourself. Keep pressing forward to the finish line. You CAN do this. Always remember that a winner never quits and a quitter never wins. You are a winner for sure.

Get involved on campus

Studies have shown getting involved in at least one student organization improves academics (GPA), self-esteem, and social life. When you are involved on campus you feel included in the community and not excluded, and you are able to meet people from all walks life. So get involved and let your leadership shine through so people know your presence.

Read the rest of this story at Parent Toolkit