Finding Success as a First-Generation College Student

Ariana Jaramillo, Political Writer

Cal State East Bay Celebrates its Inaugural First-Generation Student Week

California State University, East Bay started its inaugural First-Generation College Celebration Week with a panel of alumni sharing their experiences and advice to first-generation students for current students to become successful in and beyond their college careers.

Success comes with various challenges for a first-generation college student, including excessive guilt over leaving their families and their financial responsibilities at home, navigating resources, high pressure to succeed, having a low-income status, and an overwhelming sense of imposter syndrome.

Navigating the U.S. academic system as a first-gen student comes with frustration. “I didn’t have mentors in the house that could really understand the academic system in the U.S. My dad used to help me with my calculus homework, but he didn’t understand how the system worked or how we were being tested. Sometimes I would get frustrated having to navigate it all on my own,” shared Nia Samadi, a CSUEB alumni panelist.

Traditional means of mentorship and having connections is not something that first-gen students benefit from. “Identifying that because my mom was a teacher and my dad was a mechanic, I knew nobody in the advertising and marketing world,” said Raj Prasad, another CSUEB alumni panelist.

While having a lack of connections and mentorships can make finding jobs and internships more difficult, it is not impossible. “What I did was, I picked up the phone book, and I cold-called every ad agency in the phone book and asked for a job. When they rejected me, I hung up, and I tried again. I kept doing it until someone gave me a job,” added Prasad.

Mentorships are not the only way to network and find success. Finding allyship with other students early on can be powerful and beneficial. Collaboration, support, and guidance are important to have a positive college experience. “I had a group of people I was with [from] the beginning until graduation. We would pick classes together, study together in the library and hold each other accountable when it came to assignments,” commented Shante Thomas, another CSUEB alumni panelist.

Additionally, building community is vital to conquering imposter syndrome. Making connections with peers who come from similar backgrounds and situations is helpful when doubts arise. When dealing with imposter syndrome, it is important to remember that “success is not linear at all and each person’s success is their own. Whether it’s a CEO to an intern in their first job, everyone is just figuring it out in their own way with how they are able to,” said CSUEB alumni panelist, Simran Klair.

Moments of doubt are normal and can provide guidance to improve in healthy doses. “Fear is the catalyst of courage. Doubt is the catalyst to success. Having doubt can make you better, but don’t stay there forever,” advised Prasad.

According to The Campaign for College Opportunity, almost half of Latinx first-year students at CSU campuses are first-generation, and more than three-quarters of first-generation Latinx students at UC campuses are first-generation. Additionally, The National Science Foundation found that 30% of doctorate recipients are first-generation, a percentage that increases by the year.