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COVID Chronicles: Entering College as a First-Generation Student

When I was still in high school, I never imagined transitioning into college would be such a difficult process for me. Once I finalized my college decision, I thought that would be the end of it, but little did I know it was just the beginning. Besides the usual struggles a freshman student should be thinking about like adjusting to a new learning environment, picking the right classes, and mapping out places to study, going to college during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a whole new set of hurdles for me. 

Safety has now become a big concern for myself, my parents, and many of my peers as we get ready to start college in a pandemic. My parents do not fully support my move to campus in order to get the full college experience. They know that students at other institutions are fully remote, so it’s hard to explain that every college is its own microcosm. Each place has its own policies and strategies to deal with COVID-19. There isn’t clear guidance from the federal government, so schools across the country are acting and communicating differently. At a time when the world is filled with many uncertainties, college students should be given more guidance to resolve these issues.

My college has been very weak with its transparency, and has done little to inform us about its fall semester plans and future changes. I understand that communication has not been efficient because of the fluctuating circumstances of the ongoing pandemic, but the fact that many colleges have been taking so long to give detailed plans to its students regarding the layout of the fall semester is ridiculous. 

I still have many unanswered questions, yet I am expected to move to campus in less than a month. Housing, dining, and the layout of my courses are all still up in the air. I know I am not the only one who is constantly seeking out answers from people at my college. The simple task of sending an email and getting a concrete answer has turned into an unnecessary mission. The webinars that my university offers to students and parents to inform us of changes are not very helpful. In my case, most of the sessions are during my work hours, which makes it difficult for me to participate in them. Thus, my only other option to get in contact with my school is to send them an email, which usually brings me back to square one. It is a perpetual cycle of unanswered questions, ultimately proving detrimental to students like me that are desperate for answers.

Since I am a first-generation college student, these issues are even more difficult for me to work through. My parents do not share similar academic experiences and I often have to seek outside resources for guidance. I understand that people who are first to attend college in their families are struggling even more to find guidance now. For me, figuring out my exact college costs has been the most confusing part when I ask for my parents’ help. Financial aid is very important for me and my family because quite frankly, without it, I would probably opt to attend a much cheaper college. 

The process of navigating college as a first generation student has become much harder because I simply don’t have someone to turn to that can explain to me how it all works, so that I clearly understand my situation and know how to act accordingly. However, I remain committed to dealing with this seemingly unending list of issues by talking to upper-classmen at my school in order to get information my college wouldn’t necessarily communicate to me. I am also fortunate enough to be able to seek help from outside sources, for example through my coworkers, older friends, and cousins who can share some of their inside knowledge on tackling these problems.

I am aware that many people experiencing similar difficulties as I am have not had much luck getting the support they need. I really wish it would be easier for everyone to have access to these resources because nobody deserves to have to figure everything out on their own.

Tiffany Zhu was a summer intern with Young Invincibles. She graduated from Millennium High School in Manhattan, and will be attending Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.