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Tennessee

Surviving My First Year as a First-Generation College Student

High school prepared me academically, but it did not prepare me for the amount of time and effort I had to put in for college classes. I was used to ending my school day and then having plenty of free time. In college, however, there were lots of long days and nights. I had to learn how to find help, which as a first-generation college student, you get used to doing. Every day, my parents work long hours to make just above minimum wage. They always told me they wanted my siblings and me to have a better life. When my parents graduated from high school, they immediately entered the workforce. Neither of them thought about furthering their education. My high school helped prepare me for college in some small ways by offering AP classes and having an office where students could ask a counselor any questions they had about college and get help applying. But still, even with the assistance of a counselor, I was nervous when it came time to fill out college applications since I couldn’t look to my family for guidance. I had so many questions that my parents could not answer. Luckily, Belmont University approached my high school and gave three students four-year scholarships. I was one of them because I was in the Bridges to Belmont Program, which supports first-generation college students. Getting this amazing scholarship lifted a burden from my parents and me. Even as my financial burden lifted, I faced other struggles. As my first year progressed, not only was I learning new time management skills, but I found it hard to adjust to being away from home and being around new people so much. Up to then, I had never been away from home for more than a week. I was homesick. I felt out of place because almost everyone whom I met came from households where at least one parent went to college. It seemed as if other kids knew what to expect and had a better understanding of what they were getting into. There were times I wanted to call my parents and ask them for advice, but I knew they wouldn’t know how to help. It was discouraging. Instead of letting myself fall behind and get overwhelmed, I relied on my roommate and friends (many of whom I met through my scholarship program) for help. The Bridges to Belmont staff helped, too, giving advice as the school year started about classes and living without your parents. They held study halls with tutors who helped with a class or writing a paper. In January, when it was time to submit the FAFSA again, the staff explained how to fill out the application. They helped with anything—it didn’t matter if you just wanted to talk about your family or friends, they were there for us. I know I was lucky to have that support. Even though my parents couldn’t give me educational support, they helped in other ways. If I wanted to come home for a weekend, or even just for a home-cooked meal, they drove to Belmont and picked me up (school was about 20 minutes from home). Dad called me almost every day while he was at work to make sure I was keeping up with my school work. The first semester flew by and Christmas break arrived. I found adjusting to the second semester easier. I felt more confident in myself and my work. I also did not feel the need to come home as much. Even though it took time, I made more friends. Being the first person in my family to attend college has been both a challenge and a rewarding experience. What I love about college is that it gives me the chance to see the world from a different point of view. Before, I thought the world was small, but college has opened my eyes to how big and different the rest of the world is. College is going to allow me to travel abroad to see the world like no one in my family has ever imagined. I hope to continue to make my family proud and be a role model for my siblings.  
Kristine Lockhart is a rising sophomore at Belmont University where she is studying marketing.
Kristine Lockhart is a rising sophomore at Belmont University where she is studying marketing.

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