First generation college students are the first students in their family to go to college, and these students face different obstacles than their peers who come from generations of higher education.
To add to that distinction, African American first generation students have even more obstacles solely based on their race like institutionalized racism. The systems that have been set into place because of this, which separates them from their peers and can really deter these students from their studies.
According to PNPI.ORG, among all undergraduate students, the U.S. Department of Education classified 41% of African American students to be first generation. In comparison, 25% of white and Asian students combined were determined to be first generation students, which is much less than that of African American students.
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I am a full-time employee and a remote graduate student. IU freshman Ana Allen is also a first generation African American student and she spoke with me about what it was like navigating through her first year as an undergraduate student.
Allen said she is enjoying her first time attending a university, but there are some things about college she wasn’t prepared for.
“Prior to starting school, I had many questions about financial aid and no one to answer them,”
Allen's parents or grandparents did not attend college and she is the oldest of her siblings so she had no one to consult with about college related things. Allen said being the oldest of her siblings and a first generation student added a lot of pressure for her to do well in school and set a good example for her younger siblings to follow. When she comes home to visit, she said she’s always greeted with questions about her life on campus. She can feel the excitement from her younger siblings as she goes into detail about what she has experienced so far. The interactions with her siblings always boosts her motivation to do well in school.
On her collegiate journey, Allen made some friends who are also first generation students. They helped answer each other's questions and used resources like the IU school website, their professors’ office hours and informational sessions hosted around campus on pressing topics.
My experiences of being a first generation student is similar to Allen. Not having anyone to answer the dozens of questions I had about college made me feel ill-prepared for my classes and life on campus. I had to take advantage of the resources my campus offered, and I relied heavily on my support system to pull me through the tough times.
There were certain things I didn’t know how to do like pack for my dorm and register for college classes. I would express my feelings to family members, and although they couldn't relate, they were supportive. Having a support system is what got me through undergraduate school.
College is about finding your passion, your tribe and yourself. Making a way for yourself in college as an African American first generation student can be overwhelming. Look for your support, don't be afraid to ask for help and use every resource available.
This new journey is going to be what you make of it, so make it great.