Do you know that feels like? I went to a Catholic high school and graduated with a class of 143 students and I would venture to say I was a BWOC (big woman on campus). I knew EVERYONE and that kept me confident and engaged in my academics and social life. Like you might expect, all of that changed when I went to college.
I am a first generation college student. For me, that meant at the time of entering the University of Central Florida in 2002, I was the only person in my immediate family (including my grandparents) to ever attend college. I was excited to open this pathway for my family and to be an example and inspiration for my younger siblings to follow. It was again, like so many other times in high school, my time to shine! This feeling rapidly diminished within my first week as a college student. Allow me to set the stage for when things got real…
I walked on to campus feeling like it wouldn’t be much different from high school. I even knew a couple of my high school friends who were also attending UCF. That perception was quickly challenged when I went to my first class with over 250 of First-Year students! Our campus welcomed over 50,000 students total, so running into friends or familiar faces was a thing of the past and I was quickly regretting my decision of leaving home and attending a large school. I remember feeling lonely, frustrated and completely confused.
Then there was my love-hate relationship with the Financial-Aid office. My family couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket for my education so I stood in a 45 minute line almost every day for the first couple of weeks to make sure my loans, grants and awards were in order. Even after I knew I had finances managed, I would still stand in line to “make sure”, or ask another question or just to feel secure that I was doing something productive. One thing was certain in my mind, if I didn’t get the money stuff right I would be heading back home and that was just not an option! I would call my parents to ask questions, but they didn’t have the answers; the three of us were learning at the same time. I became envious of my friends who would tell stories of the great advice an older sister or father had about being successful in college. It seemed they all just had it figured out. Weren’t there any other students like me? Was there anyone else who had to go it alone, make their own decisions, and come up with their own money? It sure didn’t seem like it.
So here is the thing with hindsight….it’s perfectly clear! Looking back I truly appreciate the struggles I faced with being financially independent from my parents, making new friends and the feeling of being ‘just a number’. Those experiences have laid the bricks for the fulfilling life I have to today. I want you to know, if your story is similar, don’t give up and never stop asking questions. Your family may not understand what you are going through but they love you so much and are so proud of your accomplishments already! Keep learning together; continue growing as an individual; and reach out to your peers, RA’s and University staff for help when you need guidance. While I love my alma mater, Loyola is a special place that provides much more support than I could have hoped for at my undergrad. Take one day at a time and celebrate the little victories; they are all leading to your dance across the stage in just a few short years!