1st Generation College Student? My Tips and Tricks!

People always ask, what is like to be a minority in college? Well, there are plenty of factors that make it a challenge, but in my perspective, the challenges have been for the better. I am the youngest of 33 cousins and the youngest of four siblings; I am one of the few who is attending a four-year university from my group of cousins and the only one in my immediate family to do so. As a first-generation college student, I often times feel very confused and alone through the process.

I have been attending California State University of Los Angeles and am studying for a criminal justice degree. Although I have only attended for a semester, I have learned plenty of things I could share with those applying to college or have questions on what your first months are like and what to expect. This piece is for those who feel alone, for those who are a minority, and for those of us who are breaking stereotypes and cycles in our family.

College is not a burden in any way. It not only educates you and prepares you for a future career, but it teaches you a lot about life as well. You pick up so many skills since this is probably the first time that you will become more independent than ever. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. I have learned to become independent, be more vocal even when I get nervous in a class of 100 people and to practice new ways of studying since I’m not in a typical high school anymore. Not only that, I realize that there is such culture shock, although I only commute an hour. One grand piece of advice is to make sure you are prioritizing your education (consider it your full-time job) because I made the mistake of putting my real job first and began to lose focus on what really is going to bring me a successful future.

A few other tips I’d like to share that I have learned so far:

  1. Also, plan everything ahead of time,
  2. Always study and turn in assignments early so you prevent procrastination and unhealthy stress,
  3. Carry a planner with you,
  4. Ask classmates to form study and support groups,
  5. Choose your classes ahead of time in order to create a schedule that you are fond of and that will give you enough time to study or work part-time if you have to like me,
  6. Most importantly, HAVE FUN!

Remind yourself of why you chose to go to college or apply in the first place because it is normal to begin to lose hope during testing seasons — we’re only human. There will always be a storm before the rainbow, and you are not alone! Take a look around you and see how many Latinos might be in your same shoes. If you are a minority who was labeled with negative stereotypes, remember you are breaking those.

I was always told “I’d be surprised if you don’t drop out of high school junior year,” or “Why don’t you just get a full-time job to help with bills already?” However, I only use those comments as motivation to pursue everything I have been working towards since elementary school.

I am going to college to grow as a person in all aspects of life and to make my family proud, to prove to my parents that they did not risk everything by coming to a new country, with nothing, for nothing. You and I have made it this far already, so don’t let anything prevent you from excelling in your education and career.

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Angela Arellano

Angela Arellano

Angela Arellano is a Mexican American, first-generation college student, born and raised in East Los Angeles by her single mother ever since her father passed. She graduated from James A. Garfield High School and is now a freshman at the California State University of Los Angeles studying for a degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in psychology. She currently studies and works part-time to help her mother and family with expenses. Through her work, she hopes to inspire those who want to achieve what they dream for and show other young adults like herself, specifically Latinas that they can break barriers when united one day at a time. She hopes to relate to parents, children, and students by sharing her views and advice on education.

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