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Tips for First-Generation College Students

When I received my admission decision to Pepperdine University, I could not believe that I was accepted. My mind started racing with the experiences the next four years had in store for me, but on the first day of school I realized just how tough of a road I'd face.

I have to talk to who now? Where do I have to go? Where exactly is that? Wait, what forms do I have to fill out? How do I even fill out these forms? What does this mean? Each day brought a new question, but I couldn't turn to my parents for help because they didn't go to college. As I searched for help, I found three key resources that helped me not only survive but thrive throughout my time at Pepperdine.

Isabel Cornavaca embracing a friend

Connect with Professors

In high school, there's a social stigma about being talkative and asking for help from teachers. I let that mentality go in college, and because of that, I benefited tremendously. Your professors can provide you with help regarding the class you're taking with them and beyond—all you have to do is go to their office hours. You don't have to stay through the full time slot, you can just pop in and say hi!

Throughout my time at Seaver College, I always made it a point to stop by during office hours. One day I'd go in and ask about an assignment I didn't understand and the next, I'd speak with them about my family and off-campus job. In fact, one of my favorite professors would often tell me, "Isabel, you're not bugging me! That's what I'm here for!"

The faculty at Seaver College play the dual roles of professor and mentor. As professors, they want to see you excel in their class; as mentors, they want to see you grow spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Visiting with them one-on-one helps you connect and really get to know your professors and vice versa. After each visit, I always felt like I was right back in the saddle.

Build a Support Network

My first-generation college student peers were another critical resource. At the start of my freshman year, I only knew one fellow first-generation student, my roommate. As time went on, I began to realize that we were part of a much larger group, but there wasn't a platform for us to find one another.

Last year a friend of mine and a Seaver faculty-advisor started the First-Gen Club on campus. While this club is still fairly new, it has introduced me to many first-gen students that I'm sure I never would've met otherwise. Participating in the club's events such as our first general meeting, our halfway there social event, and our first annual First-Gen Banquet has allowed me to both feel proud of being first-gen and to be a part of a small but strong and growing community.

This club has helped me grow closer to and develop stronger friendships with other first-generation college students. I was honored to watch the club grow during its initial year when I served as its vice president of external affairs, and I'm excited to continue and finish my time here at Pepperdine as the club's president.

Isabel Cornavaca posing with friends in front of a balloon display

Accept Help from University Programs

In 2018 Seaver College launched the First Wave program to better support the rising population of first-generation college students. The program continually searches for ways to connect to the first-gen community before and even after they come to Pepperdine, and it has brought more attention to our growing community at a University-based level.

Through an advisory night event, the program guided students on which classes to enroll in and on whether to make either two- or four-year plans. It has hosted a panel at which some of our First-Gen Club members spoke about their experience here at Pepperdine, and has ensured that first-gen students are a part of New Student Orientation. And if that weren't enough, first-generation professors and faculty meet and discuss ways on how to make Pepperdine University more accessible to first-generation college students. I've been honored to even sit in some of the meetings and provide the student perspective.

Aside from these resources, as first-gens, you should know that there will be ups and downs. There will be students who have more experience than you and are excelling when you feel like you're drowning. You will have days when you question yourself, wonder if the challenges you must face are worth it, and be tempted to give up. You will have days when you feel like no one understands what you're going through, but people do. The First Wave program members understand, first-gen professors, faculty, the First Gen Club, and I understand.

Being a first-generation college student is not easy, but it's something to be proud of. Don't stop pushing yourself, and when you get hit with a blow, you have to bounce right back. You're bound to have a bumpy time, but as a first-gen student you can rely on a host of colleagues and mentors to help you reach the other side and grab that diploma you so rightfully earned.