First Generation Graduates // Overcoming the Struggle

Being the first to go to college in your family and graduate with a degree is a huge accomplishment whether it happened generations ago, or it is happening a few weeks from now. Every year, Houghton’s graduating class is mixed with students who are following in the footsteps of family members that have graduated before them and first-generation graduates.

Ryan Spear, director of admission, said, “This past fall, approximately 35 out of 247 incoming first-year students were first-generation, meaning their parents had not received a college degree.”

Jazmine Nova ’17 is a first-generation graduate pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in biology with minors in public health and psychology. “It’s a lot of pressure,” Nova said. “It’s a lot to be proud of, but it’s also a lot of pressure. College is very different experience as a first-generation graduate, especially when you realize there are a lot of students who have had their parents graduate from college. For example, a lot of Houghton students have parents, aunts and uncles who all went to Houghton.”

Since first-generation graduates are the first in their family to pave the way with a college degree, their experience can look different from students who are not first-generation. “Anecdotally, we sometimes find that incoming students who are first-generation do not have some of the benefits of coming from a ‘college-going culture’ in their home,” Spear stated. “This can influence small things such as understanding the basics of the application process to the challenges of the complexity of applying for financial aid.”

Nova’s experience has been one of continual discovery. “A lot of it I have had to figure out on my own,” she said. “A lot of it I’m still trying to figure out on my own.”

Spear continued, “However, first-generation students can also be among the most resourceful,” he said. “They often realize the importance of college and have a firm commitment to succeeding.”

Danielle Eaton ’17 is also a first-generation graduate pursuing a bachelor of arts in communication and writing. “While my parents and family are really proud of me, and I’m proud of myself for accomplishing this, there’s an enormous amount of pressure that comes with being a first generation graduate,” Eaton said. “The fear of disappointing those who’ve invested in me financially and emotionally to help me earn this degree is what has left me stressed, sleep deprived, and anxious.”

Like Nova, Eaton has experienced the strain of being a first-generation graduate. “In a way, that’s pushed me to be the best I can be, but sometimes I think it’s pushed me to try to extend myself beyond what I’m capable of,” she said. “I’m never going to be an A student, and for a while I really struggled with thinking I was disappointing those people who were invested in my success.” She continued, “Now, I know that as long as I’m pushing myself to be the best I can be, and I’m happy with the work I’m doing at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”

Nova has also reaped the benefits of a first-generation graduate. “Being a first-generation graduate gives you your own sense of freedom. It gives you a sense of independence,” she said. “You have to build your own paths and figure out how you’re gonna get there.”

As May 13, 2017 quickly approaches, whether you are a first-generation graduate or following in the footsteps of those who have gone before you, the college is proud celebrate this major accomplishment. “As a whole, I’d say that first generation students are much like the rest of the incoming student population, highly capable students seeking the kind of liberal-arts education that Houghton is known for,” Spear said.

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