Reflections of a first-generation college student

I was so focused on doing everything “right” that I didn’t stop and smell the tulips.

Photo by Ruth Ogden | The knowledge I gained during undergrad was invaluable, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without UWT.

When you’re a first-generation college student, there’s immense pressure to achieve as much as possible. I am financially independent, neither of my parents have college degrees, and the only jobs I’ve held were food service and retail. When I transferred from TCC to UWT in 2020, I was ready to do everything I could to change my life trajectory. I worked hard, joined the Global Honors program, participated in student government, and got a Dean’s List letter for every quarter I’ve been enrolled. On paper, I did everything right. In retrospect though, this was not the best use of my time at UWT. If I could go back, I’d do a lot of things differently.

First, I’d find campus resources and would ask for help the moment I realized I needed it. As many first-generation college students know, there is an intense need to prove that you belong here and that you deserve your spot on campus. I didn’t want anyone to see my problems, and I felt too shy to utilize resources that I desperately needed, like the Pantry or the Psychological and Wellness Services (PAWS). Because of this, I struggled deeply in ways that were totally unnecessary. There were plenty of people who wanted to help me, and it took me overcoming my own stubbornness to see that. 

Secondly, I’d actively seek out mentors and role models. These can be academic advisors, professors, campus staff or even other students. The sooner you find people you aspire to be like, the better off you’ll be. Having a mentor is so important because they can encourage you to take risks, like applying for an internship or applying for competitive programs. They can even give you the lowdown on which professors to avoid or how to study for specific courses.

Thirdly, I’d attend more fun campus events, not just networking ones. UWT has an incredible campus community that puts on numerous cultural events, volunteer events, documentaries, panel discussions and more. A lot of them have free food, too! Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to live on campus (Court 17, you are so expensive!) and I was too shy to attend events on my own. Had I started attending campus events earlier on, it would have been easier to make friends.

Finally, I’d explore my academic interests more. I was so fixated on taking the most competitive courses I could find and getting good grades that I didn’t take the time to consider if my major was the best fit for who I am. I majored in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (with an Econ emphasis) and took minors in Innovation and Design and Global Engagement. I had an insane course load and hyper-fixated on whatever I thought could get me closer to law school. Sadly, because of this, I never took a single art or literature course just for fun. It actually wasn’t until my senior year that I realized I actually loved creative writing. I wish I had given myself the opportunity to discover this earlier on in my academic career.

In sum, college is what you make of it. It seems obvious to others, but it took me three years to realize that an undergraduate degree is not an immediate key to success or even a good job. My advice to you is to use college as a time to meet like-minded individuals, build community and explore new interests. 

The point of college is to teach you critical thinking skills, help you network within your community, and challenge your perceptions of the world. In those ways, UWT has absolutely succeeded. Despite my regrets, I’m so proud to be a first-generation Husky and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without UWT.