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Breaking Barriers: Navigating College as a First-Generation Student

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As a first-generation college student and the first in my family born in the United States, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility and pride. My grandparents immigrated from an island in the Caribbean called Trinidad to the U.S. with dreams of providing their children and future grandchildren with opportunities they never had. With them, they brought my mom and her two siblings. My parents and grandparents did not have the privilege of attending college. I broke that cycle by attending the University of Florida (UF), where I earned both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Marketing.

From a very young age, my family instilled in me the importance of higher education. My grandparents often reminded me that they had left their home country so their descendants could have access to better opportunities. This belief was the foundation of my upbringing, guiding my aspirations and efforts.

In high school, while my classmates discussed colleges their parents had attended or had been recommended to them by counselors, my knowledge about higher education was limited. I only knew that college was essential for achieving my goals. I focused my research on Florida schools, aiming for affordable in-state tuition, with plans to rely on FAFSA and the Bright Futures scholarship. This journey led me to set my sights on the University of Florida. I studied hard for the SAT and kept my grades up in the hopes of meeting UF's admission requirements.

In February 2018, my dream came true when I received my admission letter from UF. I remember crying tears of happiness with my mom and grandma because we knew all of our collective hard work had paid off.

Moving by myself to UF in Gainesville was a very daunting experience for me because I had no idea what to expect and would be living almost 5 hours away from my family. As a condition of my acceptance, I was placed in the AIM program (now UF Promise), designed to assist first-generation, low-income students in their freshman year. This program was instrumental in my transition, providing peer mentors, workshops, and a network of students with similar backgrounds.

The initial months in college were challenging to say the least. I struggled with difficult coursework, adjusting to social life, and learning how to live on my own.

After a lot of trial and error, I started to get the hang of things and suddenly college didn’t seem so scary after all.

I figured out how to balance my classes and formed a supportive friend group that remained with me until graduation.

As I adapted, I began to love my life at UF. From attending football games and enjoying lunches at the Student Union to studying at the library with friends, I fully embraced college life. During my junior year, I took the opportunity to apply for UF’s combined degree program, allowing me to work on my Bachelor's and Master's degrees simultaneously. This program enabled me to use FAFSA and Bright Futures to cover part of my Master’s degree. By December 2021, I graduated a semester early with my Bachelor's degree and, eight months later, completed my Master's degree.

If I have to give one piece of advice to fellow first-generation college students, it would be to ask for help when you need it.

Whether it’s from classmates, professors, or campus resources like academic advisors and peer tutors, support is available. Utilize these resources to navigate the complexities of college life. You are not alone!

I am incredibly proud of my journey and grateful for the sacrifices made by my grandparents and my mom to help me get to where I am today. Their dreams and hard work have been the foundation of my success. Reflecting on my experiences, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of accomplishment for breaking new ground and setting a precedent for future generations.

My journey as a first-generation college student was not without its hurdles, but it was also filled with growth, discovery, and triumph. From the moment I received my acceptance letter to the day I held my degrees, every step was a testament to the resilience and support of my family. As I move forward, I carry their dreams and my achievements as a beacon for what is possible, no matter the starting point.