When it comes to being a first-generation student at a college and university, it can be the most exciting feeling ever. Yet, it often comes with a load of monumental pressure, anxiety and stress.
That’s what much of the Generation Z population at Montclair State University feels when it comes to being the first family member to attend college. Although it is important to receive a degree, the time and work spent at a four-year college can be taxing on a young individual, especially if college wasn’t their first or only choice.
Michael Elizondo is a freshman undecided first-generation college student from Trenton, New Jersey. When it came to graduating high school, he was given two choices by his parents: either choosing to attend a university or going to work instead.
So, Elizondo chose school, given he didn’t want to “work a hard job.” He shared the standards he is held to as the first family member to attend college.
“It’s a lot of pressure on me because I feel my parents have high expectations of me since they don’t want me to struggle like they did,” Elizondo said.
Fortunately, after his first semester, things began to run smoothly. Now, in his second semester, he reports no longer feeling lost or as mentally drained as before.
“Transitioning into my second semester, I’m liking it so far,” Elizondo said. “I’m doing well and I’m ready for next year.”
Maddie Heinold is another first-generation student, the youngest of two children to go to a four-year university. A freshman family science and human development major from Wayne, New Jersey, she is currently studying to become a teacher. Regarding her freshman experience so far, she described the responsibilities she felt fall on her shoulders.
“It’s high standards graduating at a four-year university,” Heinold said. “I want to impress and make my parents proud.”
Heinold said even though it can be challenging for her, she still feels like she is making the most out of her college experience.
“[I’m] enjoying college, the campus life, making new friends and balancing my social life along with my work schedule outside of school,” Heinold said.
Felicity Ampiaw, a sophomore justice studies and pre-law major, is from Hillside, New Jersey. Since Ampiaw and her parents wanted a better life for her, they had moved from their original country to come to the United States.
“It’s a lot of pressure because you want to make both your family and parents proud,” Ampiaw said. “You just don’t want to fail. My parents sacrificed a lot to come here. [There are] a lot of opportunities in America, but in my parents’ country, [there are none].”
As a transfer student, Ampiaw said she is having a great time with her college experience.
“I enjoy this environment better at Montclair State because it is much more [diverse] than my former school,” Ampiaw said. “I feel more comfortable here. I feel that I have more opportunities and more experiences to grow.”
Similar to the other students, Dominique Bennett, a freshman sociology major who is also from Trenton, feels the stresses of being a first-generation student.
“It’s overwhelming,” Bennett said. “[It’s] an amount of work you’re not used to. It’s pressure, and it’s kind of hard when you want to look for advice from siblings but don’t have any to take that kind of advice from [because they] didn’t attend college.”
Bennett also recalled that around the time of her senior year in high school, she was always asked the question, “what do you want to do?” She said the military wasn’t of her interest, so she decided college would be the best choice for her.
“I’m in college for myself and my parents because my mom wants me to have the experience she never had,” Bennett said. “And then for myself, I want my future to be way different.”