Issues

Beyond the First Year: How Fontbonne Combats First-Generation College Students’ Struggles

College opens up doors. A degree gives you the opportunity to create multiple possibilities and to explore a field you love. But for first-generation college students, the path towards success is plagued with uncertainty and doubt.

First-generation college students are defined by the National Center for Education Statistics as, “students whose parents never enrolled in postsecondary education.” In their first year, first-generation college students are thrown into an environment that may cause a range of feelings, from excitement to embarrassment. First-generation college students’ troubles follow them all the way until they cross the stage, and even afterwards, but Fontbonne has multiple resources to combat first-generation student stress.

The Struggles

First, what are the struggles first-generation students face? Being a first-generation college student myself, there are “college things” that I struggled to learn. I didn’t know how to apply to colleges, complete a FAFSA, or what “college” was in general. First-generation students also struggle with graduating on time. Universe Narratives stated, “A 2011 study from the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA indicated only 27 percent of first-generation students earn a degree after four years and only 50 percent of them after 6 years, compared to continuing-generation students who graduate at a rate of 42 percent in four years and 64 percent in six years.” 

I am now a senior and I thought my times of “first-generation college student problems” were behind me. But soon, I discovered that I didn’t know how to apply for a professional career, complete a resume or cover letter, or what a “career” meant in general. Thankfully, there are resources on campus to combat these issues.

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Fontbonne’s Program Dedicated to First-Generation Students

Amy Simons, the Director of Student Success and Engagement, is the woman behind the 1G Collective at Fontbonne. She states first-generation students suffer from “imposter syndrome”, in which college students feel they do not belong in their own college environment. The 1G Collective program at Fontbonne was founded two years ago, aiding first-generation college students in their time at Fontbonne. The 1G Collective program helps acclimate first-generation college students into college, but aids in helping those who are graduating as well.

Simons stated that graduating first-generation college students have difficulties applying to jobs, knowing how their skills transfer, and choosing benefits when they do get a job. The first-generation college student does not stop feeling like an “imposter,” merely transferring their feeling to the work world. Looking at a list of qualifications for jobs can be daunting, but not knowing what jobs to apply for and how to advertise yourself is just as daunting. The 1G Collective also aims to help first-generation students become knowledgeable about negotiating pay and benefits. Overall, the 1G Collective program offers a safe environment for those who feel they are an imposter in college life and beyond.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for first-generation college students, according to Simons, is envisioning a career path. Often times, first-generation students are unaware of the paths their majors and college experience can take them. Looking only at the linear career path, first-generation students struggle to realize that where they start in their careers may often not be where they end up. Their major can be applied to multiple fields, not just the most obvious option. Without exposure to this first hand, the students expect their careers to follow exactly what they majored in.

Other Fontbonne Resources

So what are other ways to combat first-generation student struggles? Using Fontbonne resources wisely! According to Simons, first-generation college students tend to perceive asking for help as a sign of their own failure. However, asking for help is a natural part of learning and being a student. The 1G Collective is a great program to get involved with and use as a resource. However, the 1G Collective is just one of the great resources available here at Fontbonne.

The Career Development office, located in Student Affairs, aids in resumes, interview prep, and even job applications. It’s as simple as setting up an appointment. While trial and error may be effective in the long run when it comes to doing job interviews, resources are right on campus to avoid the “error” part as much as you can. Set up an appointment or come to their walk-in hours: Either way, Career Development is there to help Fontbonne students succeed outside the classroom.

Don’t want to set up a meeting? Talk to a professor you trust. Overall, Fontbonne is filled with great resources to arm you with the best resume and interview skills you can possibly have. Most of the time, the professors you confide in know you on an individual level, allowing more personal advice to be given. Office hours are there for academic help, but can be used for any other personal mini crises as well.

 

Fontbonne’s 1G Collective is a unique way to get involved and receive help as a first-generation student. Thanks to the program, first-generation college students strip their “imposter” identity, stepping into their careers with confidence. The career world is a new frontier for first-generation college students; Fontbonne has the ability to arm students with valuable information as they enter it. First-generation college students may have to jump through hoops others do not, but Fontbonne’s resources allow them to step into a post-graduation world fully prepared to jump through them.

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