By Kennie Dionísio
When incoming first-year student Katelyn Corbett received her acceptance letter to Adelphi University, she was ecstatic to commit to her top school. In preparation for her first year, Corbett regularly visits campus and connects with other Adelphi students in her graduating class. But despite remaining positive amidst this transition, she still feels burdened by tuition costs and lack of family support.
Corbett is a first-generation student, meaning she is the first individual in her immediate family to pursue a college degree – and it has been her lifelong dream to do so. She’s not alone. Of the approximately two-thirds of undergraduate students who reported their parents' highest degree, one-third are considered first generation (one or both parents didn't complete a four-year or above college or university degree), according to data provided by Adelphi's Institutional Research and Strategic Analytics Department.
Steering through college as a first-generation student is never easy. We are faced with the task of picking up the pieces from generations before us, even if it means navigating higher education independently. Adelphi supports first-generation students through a range of programs and resources including the Mentoring Program, College Science Advancement Program, which supports underrepresented groups in STEM with workshops and research opportunities, and the Hispanic Community Partnership Program.
But it also helps first-years and transfer students to gain helpful insights from fellow first-generation students so that college doesn’t have to be such a daunting task for us.
1. Find your niche and own it.
No matter which walk of life you come from, we all stumble into college wondering how we can make our mark on the world. It is completely normal to be a teenager or a twenty-something and not have it all figured out, but identifying your interests is the first step to a transformative college experience.
Senior Jolisa John-Lynch switched her major three times before ultimately deciding to pursue health sciences. “I was yo-yoing between nursing and social work, but neither of those fields was making me happy,” said John-Lynch. “At the end of the day I like to help people, so I took some health science classes and saw how versatile the field is.”
Being a voice for all marginalized groups, John-Lynch noticed the mistreatment of Black patients in medicine and wanted to bridge the gap. Her advocacy for the Black community does not stop in the classroom. Climbing up the executive board ranks since her first year, she now presides over Adelphi’s student-run Black Students United.
Your involvement in your college community is a direct reflection of who you are. The differences you will make start with your individuality.
2. Take advantage of every opportunity.
Talk to that professor during their office hours. Join that club or rush that fraternity/sorority. Secure that interview for that internship you have always wanted. Apply for that scholarship. Allow yourself to gracefully make mistakes and get pummeled by rejection – because nothing hurts more than the regret of a missed opportunity.
As you will learn throughout your college career, the number of people you talk to and the risk in the chances you take will proportionately affect the size of your network. Adelphi offers ample encouragement for its first-generation population. In recent months, Adelphi established a chapter of Alpha Alpha Alpha. Affectionately called “Tri-Alpha” by its members, this honor society founded at Morovian University in 2018 is exclusively for first-generation students. As of spring 2023, Adelphi’s Eta Xi chapter boasts 23 members.
Robby Fahrenholtz, coordinator of the Multicultural Center, also came up with the First-Gen Fridays initiative, sponsored by the Center for Student and Community Engagement. “I know when I was in college, physically going to the bursar’s office to talk about my bill or financial aid was the last thing I wanted to do,” said Fahrenholtz. “I wanted to get first-gen students in the room with different people from across campus who are here to make students’ lives easier.”
Covering a wide range of topics such as applying for financial aid and practicing self-care, these informal workshops are meant to lighten the responsibilities of a first-generation student.
3. Avoid comparing yourself to other students.
It can be easy to fall into the impostor syndrome trap as a first-generation student. That awful, quiet fear that your success is a fluke can lower your grades and increase your chances of dropping out. Since we first-gens don’t receive much emotional, financial and informational support, it feels as though the college atmosphere can eat us alive.
You might look at other students who are graduating early or winning prestigious awards and proceed to berate yourself. But how did it feel the last time you compared yourself to someone else? Probably miserable, or even resentful. Instead, expend your energy into practicing self-gratitude. Realize that the road to success looks different for you, and as a first-generation student, you are destined to achieve big things. You belong here.
4. Seek mentorship.
While independence is something we all strive for, having a mentor can alter the trajectory of your college career. A good mentor will help you measure and reach your goals, while also cheering you on.
A prime example of mentorship at Adelphi University comes from the Peer Assistant Leader (PAL) program. Every incoming first-year student is paired with an upperclassman based on academic major or common interests. This select group of student leaders not only facilitates Adelphi’s three-day summer orientation but also serves as year-round peer mentors to groups of over 40 students each.
Sophomore computer science major Onkar Dhillon has lengthy experience with mentorship. Starting as a dedicated member of his high school robotics team, Dhillon is eager to both teach and learn. Upon starting his Adelphi career, it has been his goal to become a better leader.
“Exuding leadership is crucial for first-generation students because it can foster a community of empowerment,” said Dhillon. “Under my mentorship in the PAL program, I was pushed to break out of my shell.” Now a PAL himself, Dhillon aspires to use his knowledge for students who are anxious about starting college.
5. Embrace the journey.
Going to college is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Live it. You will be collecting your diploma in the blink of an eye. Although every first-generation student has their struggles, overcoming them is what makes the experience worthwhile. Take every moment in — the good and the bad. Surely, one day, you will be reminiscing about your time at Adelphi University.