This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Going to college is a life-changing experience for most students. But for first-generation college students, the transition can be even more difficult. Unlike many other college students, you don’t necessarily have the support and encouragement back home to help guide you in this new endeavor. Because you may lack the understanding and support from your family and friends, it’s important for you to reach out and build relationships on campus to create a sense of belonging. Here are some tips to help you get the support and resources you need:
Make Friends With Student Services
Most colleges have academic advisers who you can to talk to when a class may not be going so well. College advisers also are able to talk with you about how to manage your time. Be sure to meet with your adviser at least twice each semester to discuss how your classes are going and plan your next semester’s schedule. Your adviser also can talk with you about your adjustment to college life. Your adviser’s contact information can usually be found online.
Know That a College Counselor Is Just a Phone Call Away
The good news is that a trained college counselor is never far on a college campus. If you’re dealing with serious health or emotional issues, contact a counselor to discuss how best to cope. Many students, especially first-generation students, work while in college and some are under a lot of pressure to maintain a high GPA for scholarship purposes. This combined with adjusting to a new lifestyle could lead to depression or anxiety issues. Most counselors have walk-in hours, and you can typically book an appointment online.“Finding a mentor can make the college experience one of the best experiences of your life.”
Get Involved With Peer Study Groups
Always be open to forming a study group for the classes you struggle with. It’s likely your peers are struggling with the same material you are. If creating a weekly study group is too much of a commitment, consider forming a study session prior to midterm or before the class final. Getting to know others in your class helps you build relationships on campus, and it’s likely those friendships will last even after the class ends.
Reach Out to Your Favorite Professor
Finding a mentor can make the college experience one of the best experiences of your life. Consider dropping in on your professor during office hours. Chances are he’d be happy to talk to you about his own journey in college, giving you a support system that can last your entire college career—or a lifetime.
Look for Local Organizations or Local Chapters
There are many national and local organizations that provide free support, counseling and other services to first-generation and/or low-income college students. If your college doesn’t have the right help for you, there is likely a group out there that does. College Possible is an organization that offers resources and support for college students; Single Stop partners with several local colleges to provide financial counseling; National College Advising Corps provides peer-advisers to first-generation and low-income students at 18 colleges and universities across the U.S. You can also find a list of college access programs here, some of which offer assistance to students throughout their college career.
Clearly, there are many ways of making your transition a little easier. It’s worth noting that some colleges offer unique college orientations for first-generation college students, allowing for a more personalized experience and even pairing new students with upperclassmen to help bridge the gap. Don’t be shy about seeking out advice or help when you need it. College counselors and academic advisers want to see you succeed and make a better life for yourself.