What I Wish I’d Known as a First Generation Student

I was the first person in my family to go to college.  I was excited to get started and my family was proud of me.  At the time, I didn’t even realize that being a “first generation student” was somehow different from other students on campus who had parents, brothers or sisters, or other family members who were familiar with the world of academia.  But it was – it meant that they knew some things when they got to campus that I had no idea about.  And I didn’t even know I was missing that information.  Here are some of those things I wish I’d known then:


  1. College is a fresh start. You will no longer be stuck in the same clique or assumed to have the same label you carried in high school simply because of your last name, where you grew up, or the way you dress.  Everyone in the freshman class is new here.  This is both good and bad.  You’ll need to put some effort into getting involved with groups on campus and making some new friends.  It’s tempting to go to class and go home; but it’s worth your time to get to know people.  It comes in very handy when you end up with a 2 hour break between classes and want a lunch buddy or someone to study with; if you miss a class and need to copy someone’s notes.  And you really do get so much more out of college if you know people and are involved on campus.  It doesn’t seem so much like work and just waiting out the semester as something fun to do.
  2. If you didn’t study or do much homework in high school – that is over. Even for the best students in high school, college will present challenges that require time and effort.  It’s important to know your own strengths and weaknesses and be aware that there will be classes that you feel like you put every spare minute into just to get by.  Luckily there will be other classes that come more easily to you and you won’t need to invest as much effort to do well.  But learn to study and develop good habits early.
  3. It’s ok to ask for help.  Your professors don’t expect you to know the material when you walk in the door – that’s why you’re taking the class.  Everyone (yes, everyone) struggles sometimes.  It is perfectly ok to admit that you’re lost, don’t understand the material, or just need a little extra practice.  You’re paying a bunch of money to be here and learn, don’t let the idea that you “should” be able to get this get in the way of doing that.  The more you work at it, the better it gets, but sometimes you need some assistance.  Find a tutor in the Learning Center, ask for extra help from the instructor, or gather some classmates to study together.
  4. Your professor’s office hours are for you.  Your instructors enjoy what they’re teaching and want their students to do well.  Office hours are an open invitation for you to come talk with the professors about the class – areas where you’re struggling, topics you’re especially interested in, or any other questions you may have.  Stop by and say hello.  They’re waiting.
  5. Take advantage of the services available to you on campus – it’s part of your tuition. Colleges come with built-in services to make your life easier and to help you succeed.  In fact, the university very much wants you to do well and schools like Ohio State are especially proud of their successful students.  To help you along the way there are dozens of folks on campus just waiting to help you with financial aid, figuring out your major and taking the right classes to get you done in four years, support you when you’re stressed out or dealing with personal crises, get your online, figure out your budget and transportation issues, find a job or internship, and more.  Have a problem or concern?  There’s likely someone on campus whose job it is to help you work it out!  And now, many campuses (including OSU Lima) have programs specifically for first generation students.  Not sure who that would be?  Start with the Student Wellness Center (Galvin 107A), they know about all of these services and can help you go in the right direction.
  6. Balance is important – work, family, school, personal & social time, homework. Your life has many pieces and it’s best if they can fit together in a nice, workable way.  It doesn’t always happen, or happen easily, but it’s important to figure out the balance that works for you.  There is no right answer here.  Taking a full course load isn’t right for everyone.  Working full time won’t work for everyone.  It’s tempting to look at your class schedule and see all the open blocks of time as time that you could be at a job (or with friends or gaming or anything else).  But remember that homework has to fit in there somewhere too.  Very few students can manage to work full time and go to school full time successfully.  There is financial aid to help if you can’t work full time to pay for school (just remember to only use what you need, because if you’re taking out loans, someone will come asking for that money back eventually).
  7. You should know how to check into the requirements for your degree and where you stand in the progress toward the degree yourself. You can look up the requirements for any program on the department’s website.  Know the difference between the General Education (GE or Gen Ed) requirements for your program and the requirements for the major.  They’re not the same thing.  You can look all this up online on your own.  And at any time, you can run a degree audit to see which classes you have completed and which classes you still need to finish up.
  8. Things will change with your family.  This is one of the things about transitioning into college that no one talks much about, and is especially true for first gen students.  After a while, it may see that you have more difficulty communicating with your family; they may feel that they don’t understand you as well; there is a growing divide between you.  This transition happens for all students, but for those whose parents went to college, they have a better understanding of what their child is going through and what it is like to be a new college student.  Remember that these challenges don’t have to be permanent and that it doesn’t mean your parents don’t love and support you.  It just means that you’re in a position they have never been in.  Being patient with each other as you figure out your new, more adult relationship is vital.

Make This Your Best Year Yet!


Whether this is your first year on campus, or you’re nearly finished, get the semester started – and keep it going – on the right foot, with good academic & personal habits, to make this your best year yet.  Here are some helpful tips!  (Want more?  Check out Study-Hack.com)

 College Success Basics:

As with most things in life, finding your way in college means finding strategies that work for you.  Being a successful student is about much more than just your IQ score.  In fact, intelligence only accounts for a small percentage of college success.  Below you’ll find some recommendations to consider, but know that you may have to experiment with strategies that fit you.  There is no right or wrong way to study, manage your time, or take an exam, as long as the end result leaves you feeling healthy and fulfilled.

Blog Posts_College Success_Study Smart Tips

Know what’s expected

It’s important to be clear about what your instructors expect from you.  First thing’s first:  read the syllabus – from beginning to end.  It’s full of important information about the class.  You should find the text and what you should be reading when; the assignments and projects you’ll be completing; the exams you’ll be taking; and more.  If you’re unclear on any of it, ask your instructor for more details or clarification.  Still not sure?  Ask more questions.

How much time should you expect to spend outside of school on homework?  Well, the State of Ohio says you should expect to spend about 2 hours outside of class for each hour you spend in class.  So if your class meets for a total of 3 hours per week, you should be spending 6 hours per week at home on that material.  This includes reading, studying, preparing projects and papers, completing homework, etc.  But this is just a guide.  Everyone is different.  We each have strengths and weaknesses.  If you’re very strong in a subject, you may not need as much time for that class.  However, if you’re not so strong, you may need more time.  And there will be weeks where you don’t have the full amount of time in the required work, and other weeks where there will be more.

And be sure to check your email and any other method of communication your instructors have said they will use (such as Carmen).  Instructors will almost always use your OSU email to send you information, or post it in Carmen.  You should get in the habit of checking both regularly.  If you’d rather not have several email addresses to check, you can have your OSU email forwarded to another account.

Manage your time effectively

You have a lot to do.  Going to class, keeping up with the reading and homework, keeping track of papers & projects, as well as any extracurricular activities, clubs, or groups.  If you work, have children, or other commitments in addition to school, managing your time becomes even more challenging.  Here are some ideas:

  • Find a planner or calendar that fits your lifestyle.  If you’re always online, maybe an app is your best bet.  If you prefer low-tech, maybe a paper calendar works better.  Either way, the system will only work if you use it and remember to check it regularly (at least once a day).
  • Use reminders.  Set an alarm on your phone, use an app, send yourself an email, or put up a sticky note.  Whatever method you use, reminders can be a really handy way to keep up with deadlines and the little details that sometimes slip our minds.
  • Map out your week.  Draw out a visual plan for your typical week, with a column for each day and the times down the left side.  Now mark off the times you know you’ll be in class, at work, or any other consistent activity on your schedule.  Add in time that you’ll do homework or study, but be specific.  When will you do math homework?  When will you study for biology?  And of course, leave some time open for fun!!
  • Create an assignments spreadsheet.  Once great way to do this is in Excel, where you can make a column for the assignment name, due date, class, and any other information to keep track of.  Put in all the important dates (big & small) for all of your classes.  You can now sort all of them based on class name, due date, or otherwise.  This can be really handy when you’re balancing several demanding courses.  Also consider including your own pre-due dates.  For example, if you have a paper due in 4 weeks, you may enter your own assignment on the list, giving yourself a due date for the rough draft in 2 weeks, then the final paper in 3 weeks and a deadline to take it to the Writing Center for review with a tutor.

 Take care of yourself

It is so important that you take the time to take care of yourself during college.  It’s easy to put off going to the gym or taking the time to cook a healthy meal when you have a pile of homework waiting for you.  It can be tempting to take the quick & easy fast food dinner & just get to work; or to stay up just a little later to get in some more study time before the exam.  But those strategies often don’t pay off in the end.  Here are the basics:

  • Get enough sleep.  During early adulthood we still need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.  Yes, every night.  If you’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, you will notice a whole host of problems.  Sleep deprivation can reduce frustration tolerance, attention, concentration, and emotional stability.  It also causes us to crave foods that are high in carbs and sugars – not good if you’re trying to avoid the ‘freshman 15.’
  • Exercise.  Yes, you’ve heard it before, but it’s sound advice.  Even if you only have time to take a quick walk (or park in the furthest possible parking space from your building), exercise helps to keep you in good physical shape, reduces stress, and improves mood.
  • Learn to manage your stress.  If you find yourself stressed out all the time, take a look at the things that are causing you stress.  Are they really worth worrying about?  Sometimes they are, but worry and anxiety never solve the problem.  Come up with a strategy to tackle those situations head on.  When you do get stressed, find coping skills that work for you – time with friends, taking a break, or just a few minutes of deep breathing.
  • Eat well.  It can be hard to figure out how to eat a healthy diet on a tight budget, but with some practice, it can be done.  If you’re not sure where to start, do a little research and make a plan for healthy meals.  Bonus if you can prepare meals or snacks ahead of time so they’re ready before you’re starving.

Need more help with these areas?  The Ohio State Lima Student Wellness Center is open for Coaching.  Just check the hours on the Facebook page, posters around campus, or the door of the Wellness Center.  Stop in & ask one of the Coaches for some suggestions or more information.  You’ll be glad you did!