First-gen students face challenges


Melissa Romo Martinez, Guest Column

While first-generation students take up 40% of entering students in college, they deal with a school system that was not designed for them while also having to deal with homework, exams, extracurricular activities, and navigating their way through college with no support.

As a first-gen student, I have dealt with these issues firsthand, having to make an appointment with a counselor who does not take the time to explain to me why I’m signing up for these classes or why I only have to take a certain amount of units. When I first enrolled at Los Medanos College I hoped my experience was going to be different than what it actually was, I believed I was going to get all the help and support that I was looking for.

Trying to navigate a new environment while also having to support yourself and your family financially and also trying to keep your academic standing at its highest can really take a toll on a person’s mental health. In the article titled “Effects of Economic Hardship on Families Steven Schlozman says, “First-gen students may come from families that have less income than other students. As such, they may need larger loans and scholarships. In addition, they may have to take on jobs during college in order to meet their financial obligations, which can contribute to greater stress and take time away from their school work. Data show that financial burdens are the primary reason first-gen students leave school.”

This demonstrates that first-gen students not only deal with a lack of support from counselors but also with financial instability.

Another online article by, states that many first-generation students fill out the financial aid forms themselves. In the Journal of Case Studies in Education, a first-generation student shared, “They put all these numbers down and expect you to know what each one means. My mother doesn’t know and she expects me to find out and then tell her how it all works.”

The lack of explanation when it comes to filling out official paperwork can be extremely challenging not only for students but also for families. When I first decided to enroll in LMC, I was only given paperwork with no explanation as to what it was and was told to fill it out. It was an extremely confusing process.

When I turned in all the paperwork, I had filled out to the best of my ability. I also filled it incorrectly because I wasn’t sure what kind of information they were going to need. They would then tell me that I would be able to enroll in LMC, but due to my immigration status, I was going to be charged for classes as if I was studying abroad. I was devastated and didn’t know what to do. My plan after high school was to attend college right away but those dreams were soon crushed. I had to take a couple of years off of school while I waited for my immigration status to change. My parents were just as devastated and there wasn’t much they could do since they had never attended college.

After a couple of years, I spoke to a friend who was in the same position as me and I told him what had happened. He informed me that there was no way I should have been told that when I had been living in the United States for most of my life. He said I would just have to fill out different paperwork to attend LMC.

Situations like this could be avoided if the staff at colleges were trained better when it comes to dealing with first-gen/immigrant students — and if they took the time to sit with students and explain to them the process that would work best for them.

It saddens me that my plans to be farther ahead in school had to be put on hold simply because I didn’t fill out the correct paperwork. You don’t only see issues like this when it comes to registration but also when it comes to financial aid and signing up for classes, and this needs to change in the school system. Schools need to provide better training for staff in order to help out students correctly.