Health + Wellness

Navigating College During the Pandemic as a First-Generation Student

When I first applied to college in November of 2019, I was overcome with the feeling of excitement and loneliness. I was on the track of starting a new chapter in my life which thrilled me and despite being the youngest in my family, I was the first to go to college. On the other hand, being the youngest and the first to apply to college made me feel a sense of loneliness. There wasn’t anyone in my household who I could immediately turn to for help. My parents nor my older sister have ever taken their education as far as I had and attend college; nine different Advanced Placement classes, four different sports and one club to manage was a lot for me to engage in during the four years at my high school.

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In November of 2019, while still in high school, my original college plan was to attend a four-year university to major in mathematics and work toward becoming a math teacher. Those plans drastically changed when the pandemic hit the United States.

Every night, my family and I would watch the news and listen to the new COVID-19 cases and death toll while we ate dinner. My parents were rightfully concerned, especially with them both being employees at different grocery stores. They began to save money in case something bad were to have happened but at the same time, began to spend money on disinfectants, personal protective equipment and food for emergencies. While my parents were focusing on work and the pandemic, I was trying to focus on my last year of high school.

After my school had confirmed with students and parents/guardians that we would not be returning to campus for in-person class at the beginning of May as they had originally intended, the little motivation for school that I had left slowly began to diminish. Eventually, this led to me deciding and coming to the conclusion that despite being accepted to all the schools I had applied to, I did not have the sufficient funds to attend a four-year university.

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I never sat down to talk about the issue of finances and my college dreams with my parents. I did not want them to feel responsible or guilty about not being able to financially support me and my dreams. I have always known that money was a problem with our family, so I thought that completely avoiding it was the best decision. I just brought up with my parents the fact that community college was overall less expensive than university and that it may be easier for me to change my major if I ever decided to. After a lot of overthinking and stressing about my future, I finally came to the conclusion that I would be a first-generation college student attending community college during a global pandemic.

Other first-generation students like myself have also been facing the same problems and worries. According to the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), unlike continuing-generation college students, “first-generation college students are nearly twice as likely to be concerned about paying for their education in fall 2020.”

Along with this, in their survey with 28,198 undergraduate students, 7,233 being first-generation students, 44% of them developed a generalized anxiety disorder and 40% developed a major depressive disorder.

I have never been diagnosed or treated for anything mental health-related, but I have experienced periods throughout this past year where I began to worry and overthink an unhealthy amount about my assignments and other basic things in my life. It felt like everything kept piling up and I could never catch a break. Small tasks began to seem like unachievable tasks.

In order to combat mental health issues and other problems like this, universities and community colleges like Fullerton College have been working to provide mental health resources. The school has been having virtual events like Mindful Mondays and Thoughtful Thursdays. This has been ongoing throughout the pandemic to provide students with a breather when they need it.

Despite the efforts some schools have been putting forth to promote the topic of well-being and trying to help students catch a break from their courses, it has not been a complete success story. A study conducted by OneClass explains that despite the increase in mental health issues for the 14,712 college students who participated, “the problem was compounded by a 29% decrease in students seeking mental health services.”

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My own parents have shown concern for first-generation college students like myself. Both of my parents are grocery store employees and have noticed the higher levels of stress from their first-generation coworkers.

“Some are forced to take their laptops and homework with them so they can do homework during their lunch. When they talk to me about their college experience throughout this past year, it often sounds like many of them do not get a break and are always either working or doing school work,” my mother explains.

As someone who has been working non-stop on assignments, even through Thanksgiving and spring break, it has been hard to find time to relax or even attend one of the virtual mindfulness events. I rarely have time to relax or even spend time with my friends and it has taken a toll on my overall motivation for school. Despite pushing through it and still working my hardest to turn in my best assignments, sometimes I do not receive the best grade. It makes me feel frustrated at moments, but with the amount of homework I get assigned, there is usually no time to take long breaks.

To further assist students, some colleges like Fullerton College have extended deadlines to help with this issue. Fullerton College extended their Excused Withdraw deadline for students to May 16th.

In a National Public Radio(NPR) article, they explained that there were still universities within the United States that were hesitant about changing grading systems, despite the changes within student’s lives caused by the pandemic. Some schools, according to the Public Broadcasting Service(PBS), have been trying to help college students with their financial stability by reducing the price of admissions and allowing students to pay by the term rather than paying a school year’s tuition cost upfront.

However, NPR goes on to report that many students believed that all universities and colleges should adjust grading systems or accommodate students who may be struggling throughout this past year.

Accommodating students during this global pandemic is needed for college students like myself. Not only are students faced with academic struggles, but also personal and family struggles. I, myself, had to overcome many personal issues, the hardest being my father’s health emergencies. Situations like this and changing my major from mathematics to journalism in a matter of a few short months into my first year of college is proof that no matter how much you prepare for something, it will not always go as planned nor will it be a walk in the park; and that is completely okay.

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