What It’s Really Like to be The First Person in my Family to go to College


Bailee Abell
Staff Writer

As the first person in my family to seek education beyond high school, I believe that I have had a different experience during my first quarter of college than the children of college-educated parents. I began my freshman year completely blind, not knowing what college was going to be like, whether to hand-write or type my lecture notes, or what a section was. While my peers’ parents were able to give them guidance, my parents were not able to do so, and sometimes I felt like I would be treated differently because of my parents’ education levels.

Though I felt as if I would have to prove myself to my peers, I have never felt the pressure to prove anything to my parents. Though college was always their hope for my future, they constantly told me that no matter what choices I made about my future, they wanted me to be happy. Because they never attended college, both my mother and father have worked low-paying jobs throughout their lives in order to provide for me and my brother. Unfortunately, they never truly loved what they were doing, and our current status as a low-income family has caused them more stress than necessary.

One of my main concerns when I started school at University of California, Santa Barbara was feeling different. For one thing, this school was going to be a big change. I was going to have to pay even more attention to money than I did before attending college, and this was going to be the first time in my entire life that I would be entirely responsible for myself. I also knew that I would not be around many kids who came from families like mine– kids who had seen how crucial money really was. Because I felt that these differences between my peers and I would cause me to feel inferior, I knew that difficulty adjusting would be inevitable, and the only person who could make this transition smoother was myself.

Even though I was fully aware that my parents’ education levels were in no way a hindrance to my own, I did feel as if it may cause me to fear college life. My parents were not able to describe the experience I was about to have because they had never been through it themselves; while this was a new chapter in my life, it was going to be a new one in theirs, too.

To cope with this transition, I enrolled in the Freshman Summer Start Program and started school in early August, taking out more student loans in order to get a head start on my college career and prove to myself that not only could I be successful in high school, I could succeed at a university as well. UCSB was going to be entirely different from home, and though I anticipated the adjustment to be difficult, it was far easier than it would have been if I had not chosen to participate in FSSP.

When fall quarter began, I felt as if I was surrounded by even more people who had everything together: their AP credits from high school, the classes they were taking in order to become pre-med, and their plans for not only after college, but for in university itself. Classes were arduous, and I spent hours studying each night, fearing that I would flunk out of the university and make a fool of myself. There were times when I felt like I was not good enough to be here, among people who seem like inherent geniuses. Sometimes I still feel that way, and when I feel so small and insignificant is when I want to quit the most.

But then I think of my parents: I think of how hard they had to work in order to pay the extra $150 to put toward my meal plan; I think of the multitude of times I have heard them say “It’s been a long day…” after getting home from work, only to worry about whether they would have enough money to buy groceries that week. And when I start to feel small again, when I start to feel not good enough and compare myself to people who may come from different backgrounds than I do, I take a step back to realize that I deserve to be here just as much as every other kid who received an acceptance letter. I am more than my parents’ education level.

When I decided to go here, it was not because my parents didn’t to college, and I did not enroll at UCSB to live up to someone else’s standards. My decision to go to this university was to prove to myself—and nobody else—that I could do it.

Photo Courtesy of Bailee Abell