The college experience is often perceived as the period to have fun and grow professionally before the true feeling of adulthood sets in. While the reality of this experience looks different for everyone, there is a common set of expectations for most, entailing the hope of attending a prestigious university, being a part of the social scene, taking advantage of all activities and perks your university has to offer, and even the dream of leaving your home state or city to make new memories in a new environment. Of course, before beginning my first semester at my local state university, I still brought a couple of those expectations along with me as I started on my journey of higher education as a first-generation student, and to say it wasn’t like what I expected would be an understatement. From my experience, as a rising junior in college, here are some things I’ve learned and experienced as a student at my local state university.

1. It does get lonely, and that’s okay.

As an introvert and social butterfly at the same time, it was very difficult to make friends at a university where 90% of students are local residents just like myself. However, this is a common experience at a commuter school, and the biggest thing to note about this feeling of loneliness is that it is not a representation of your likeability, it is really just the reality of transitioning into a new environment where most students are accustomed to their atmosphere and don’t see the need to invite change. Realizing this acceptance can open a bigger opportunity to embrace a new sense of emotional independence and confidence, as this feeling is receptive to all circumstances in life, especially as an adult. 

2. Do your best to get involved.

While it is okay to invite the feeling of loneliness at times, getting involved is the best way to surround yourself with like-minded students, and most importantly, help you find your sense of community. This can take place in many forms like joining a club by major, ethnic background, hobby, or even getting a job on campus. My school in particular has a large population of Latino/a students, and as an aspiring business professional, I decided to join clubs that shine the light on Latino industry professionals as we begin to populate the workforce. Not only did this club introduce me to many different career opportunities, but it also connected me with people who were once in my shoes and were willing to help and guide me through my journey to professional development as a first-generation student. Joining clubs is so important when it comes to personal and professional development, so if scheduling your classes around your club meetings is something you can prioritize, do your best to do so. However, aside from joining clubs, I also chose to take on a job as a mathematics tutor and to say I love it would be an understatement. As a tutor, I can guide students to succeed in their courses, and connect with other tutors who share a love for math, and whom I have created great friendships with!

3. “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

This has been one of my favorite quotes since high school because oftentimes, once we feel like we’re making progress in achieving something great in our lives, it may be tempting to stop and see how far ahead or far behind we are compared to everyone else. This can sometimes feel rewarding or deterring, but nonetheless, just a completely unnecessary comparison to make for yourself as everyone’s road to success looks different. From experience, comparing where you are in life diminishes your successes and achievements, and can make you feel less appreciative of your journey. Throughout your academic pursuits, it is crucial always to remember your why, and continue to set realistic goals with realistic timelines, because regardless of the position you are in life, you’ll find a way to get to where you want to be through your passion to succeed.

4. Networking serves as your strongest tool.

Last but not least, take advantage of the opportunity to network! As previously noted, I had my own experience with comparing my successes to my peers at other prestigious schools, and though I learned just how harmful it was to my self-confidence as both a student and an aspiring professional in the corporate workforce, I also learned how I can become more than just the reflection of my school’s reputation through networking. Connecting with industry professionals, whether it be at club meetings or recruitment events, is your ability to demonstrate initiative, showcase your expertise, and present what makes you worth investing in. Maintaining these meaningful connections over time can unlock a new world of opportunities because you have people that believe in you, and can help you grow professionally.

In summary, learning how to grow and adapt within your environment is so important when pursuing higher education, and these are just a few tips and experiences that helped me blossom through this change as a first-generation student at my local state university.

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