From First Generation College Student To Nurse
This is my personal story of an upward strive toward the degree and credentials that would eventually free me from a life of bleakness in the factories. I did not have the full support of family during my journey. If my account of life as a first generation college student helps or inspires even one person out there, then my effort to capture my thoughts into the written word is worth it to me.
First generation college students often have educational experiences that greatly differ from those of their classmates who come from more educated families. I was one of those students who had been the first in my immediate family to complete college, and as a result, I faced issues that were unfamiliar to many of my counterparts. Today's common definition of the first-generation student is still derived from the coined definition and refers to a student who is the first in his/her family (mother, father, or siblings) to complete a college education (Payne, 2007).
My mother and father finished high school in the mid 1970s, entered the entry-level workforce immediately after graduating, and married a few years later. Although my mother attended a trade school to train to become a paralegal when she was 18 years old, she dropped out of the program after seven months. I am their only child.
My academic performance was better than average during my growing-up years and I graduated from high school with a 3.5 grade point average in the late 1990s. Although I was accepted to three regional state universities during my senior year of high school, my parents refused to provide any financial information on the FAFSA. They strongly discouraged me from attending university, and since my identity was not completely formed in my late teens, I abandoned my dreams of college and instead worked a string of dead-end jobs well into my early twenties.
I briefly attended the local community college when I was 19 and 20 years old and paid for the classes with my hard-earned money while working 40 hours per week. My father would ask, "What classes are you taking?" He would roll his eyes and scowl once he found out I was enrolled in general education courses such as science, English, history, and so on. "What kind of job will a science class get you?" he demanded to know.
Due to their almost nonexistent college experience, my parents were unaware of general education requirements that must be completed before one even can enroll in courses specific to a degree program. They had no clue about the number of college credits one must complete before earning an associates degree, or bachelors degree, or so forth. They did not know that the typical college course is worth about three or four credits.
Most importantly, no one in their circle of friends or acquaintances had any education beyond a high school diploma. The only college-educated people with whom they came into contact included the teachers at my , the physicians at their doctors offices, and the engineers who supervised them at the factories where they worked. The idea of their daughter attending college was nothing more that a truncated notion that cost lots of money with no guarantee of remuneration. On the other hand, my acquaintances who had academically-oriented families were all expected to graduate from college with full support and guidance from parents every step of the way.
My successes in school really took off once I moved out of my parent's household and depended on myself for support. I completed an LVN program, then an RN program, and now my mother and father finally see where college education can take a person in life. I'm glad to say that they are proud of my achievements.
Some first generation college students are fortunate to receive abundant encouragement and support from their families of origin. Too commonly, however, other families actively discourage the first generation student from pursuing higher education. Parents, siblings, and friends who have no experience of college or its rewards may be non-supportive or even obstructionist (Hsiao, 1992).
40 percent of all pupils in institutions of higher learning in America are first generation college students, so we are a force to be reckoned with and will continue this ascent in the future. Some of us were raised in households where the college culture is viewed as unknown and alien; therefore, we have more obstacles to overcome than our classmates who hail from families who can help them navigate the maze of higher education.
This is my personal story of an upward strive toward the degree and credentials that would eventually free me from the bleakness of life in the factories. If my account of life as a first generation college student helps or inspires even one person out there, then my effort to capture my thoughts into the written word is worth it to me. Keep striving toward the pot at the end of that rainbow because the prize is more gratifying than you'll ever know.Last edit by TheCommuter on Nov 30, '12
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.
Joined: Feb '05; Posts: 38,035; Likes: 69,341
CRRN, now a case management RN; from US
Specialty: 11 year(s) of experience in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psychNov 30, '12Great article! My parents were in your position... their parents (with no higher education) supported them to do bigger and better things, but never pushed or guided them and did not financially support it. My parents are so academically driven now after getting their college degrees through many years of hard work. Although it bothered me when I was in high school ("I'm not allowed out on Saturday night for a C? But thats average, Mom!"), I am so grateful now that they continue to push me and help me financially with school.Nov 30, '12Quote from zoe92Based on the article, it would seem that my parents were totally uninvolved with my education, but that was not the case during my younger years. They always encouraged me to earn good grades and complete assignments in a timely manner, and sometimes helped me with homework during my elementary school years.My parents were in your position... their parents (with no higher education) supported them to do bigger and better things, but never pushed or guided them and did not financially support it.
My parents wanted good things for me, but to them, higher education was an abstract idea whereas working and earning money was a concrete reality. Since no one in the family or their immediate circle of friends was college-educated, they personally knew no one who had succeeded through higher education. College represented the unknown to them.
Also, my parents graduated from high school during a time period when a young adult could still find a decently-paying entry-level job without a degree. Back then, factories, unionized supermarkets, power plants, utilities companies, steel mills, and other employers would hire young adults right out of high school, train them on the job, and pay them a living wage that enabled the worker to afford middle class comforts (house, car, yearly vacation, hobbies, savings, retirement, etc.).
My mother even told me, "You don't have to go to college." This statement is partially true, since not every young person is college material. In addition, there are trades that are respectable, pay well, and do not require college education. Also, the military is an option for young people who wish to bypass college and earn enough to be self-sufficient.
By the time I graduated from high school in 1999, most of these types of entry-level jobs disappeared from the American landscape, never to be seen again. Other formerly entry-level jobs (administrative assistant, secretary, technicians) were now closed to high school grads and required at least trade school, or an associates or bachelors degree for consideration. Today's entry-level jobs can be found in fast food, low-paying retail, hospitality, tourism, and other dead-end sectors.Nov 30, '12I actually had the opposite experience. My parents graduated high school in the late 80s and joined the navy right after. That's where they met. Then, my mom transferred out and stayed home after she had my sister and me. When we were 3, she went back to work for a hospital and did transcription. Now she's an administrative officer at the VA. My dad retired from the Navy after 22 years, and he works at a courthouse now. Both have said they regret not attending college.
Both of my parents were adamant that my sister and I both attend college and graduate with degrees. All throughout elementary, middle, and high school, our grades were carefully monitored and we were encouraged to apply to good colleges and get that degree.
My family did not have any college graduates in it since my grandmother's father, who graduated with a degree in psychology. Other than that, nobody else did. I am one of the first to be graduating from college after my great-grandfather. I don't think anything of being a "first generation" student, except that I am very lucky to be going to college.
I am very grateful for my college education! My husband already has a degree, and we will encourage our son to choose a career that he feels happy with, not just a college degree for the sake of having one.Nov 30, '12I loved this! I too am a first generation student. Throughout high school my parents never encouraged me to do well and always turned a blind eye to my wild teenaged antics. I got married at 19, and became a stay at home mom while my husband worked as a machinist. Finally I decided I wanted something more for our lives. At 26 I took my first class and I completely fell in love with college. I juggled being a daytime mommy and a nighttime student. Here we are, 4.5 years later and I am matriculated into a highly regarded BSN program. Not a week goes by where I do not tell my kids of the importance of a college education. Hopefully they will do it the easier way (and faster way!) as traditional students!
Great job!Nov 30, '12Quote from SkipsMy mother had dreams of becoming a lawyer when she was younger, but never discovered the steps that she would need to take to turn the dream into a reality. All she knew is that a person had to go to college to become one, and she remains convinced that a person can become a lawyer in 4 years.Both have said they regret not attending college.
As many times as I've told her that becoming a lawyer actually takes 7 years (4 years for the undergrad degree plus 3 years of law school), only a real lawyer would be able to tell her otherwise. She also did not realize that schoolteachers were educated professionals with college degrees.
My mother was somewhat disappointed that I did not want to study law, but she has had an overbearing personality in the past and has tried to live certain aspects of her life through me. In the end, it is my life and I must live it as I see appropriate, even if bystanders might not approve of certain aspects.Nov 30, '12Quote from TheCommuterI’m glad to say that they are proud of my achievements.
I am hoping you are well aware that your parents are not the only ones who are proud of you. I am proud of you and your achievements as well. It is difficult enough to persevere in the face of strangers and a system that makes attending college without financial aide, shall we say "difficult", to say the least. It becomes even more difficult on an whole different level altogether when faced with family that may not be the most supportive. Kudos to you. Seriously.
Quote from TheCommuterThis is my personal story of an upward strive toward the degree and credentials that would eventually free me from the bleakness of life in the factories. If my account of life as a first generation college student helps or inspires even one person out there, then my effort to capture my thoughts into the written word is worth it to me. Keep striving toward the pot at the end of that rainbow because the prize is more gratifying than you’ll ever know
You are an inspiration and I consider myself duly inspired. Repeatedly. You are a dedicated and powerful writer who spreads messages of wisdom and knowledge, hope, and bona fide I-must-avert-my-eyes-so-my-retinas-can-recover-from-over-exposure-to-so-much-!@#&-brilliant-awesomeness. The profession is elevated by your being. This forum is blessed with your presence.
~~CP~~Nov 30, '12Quote from CheesePotatoThank you, CP. I appreciate this more than you'll ever know.I am hoping you are well aware that your parents are not the only ones who are proud of you. I am proud of you and your achievements as well. It is difficult enough to persevere in the face of strangers and a system that makes attending college without financial aide, shall we say "difficult", to say the least. It becomes even more difficult on an whole different level altogether when faced with family that may not be the most supportive. Kudos to you. Seriously.
Quote from CheesePotatoThanks again. You are also a great writer, CP. Your have a knack for bringing words together to conjure up some of the richest pieces of prose that grace these forums. You have a talent for writing. Really...You are an inspiration and I consider myself duly inspired. Repeatedly. You are a dedicated and powerful writer who spreads messages of wisdom and knowledge, hope, and bona fide I-must-avert-my-eyes-so-my-retinas-can-recover-from-over-exposure-to-so-much-!@#&-brilliant-awesomeness. The profession is elevated by your being. This forum is blessed with your presence.Nov 30, '12Wow, Commuter, another home run! I really enjoy reading your articles. Not only are they well written, they make me feel.
This one is particularly emotional for me, as I am also a first generation graduate and faced some of the same challenges you write about. I was lucky that my parents encouraged me to attend college. However, they were (and probably still are) absolutely clueless about the financial, emotional, intellectual, and even physical challenges associated with it.
Thanks so much for sharing this!Nov 30, '12Quote from SkipsMy dad doesn't care that he didn't go to college, but my mom does. When she was a teenager growing up in Vietnam, she got expelled from 10th grade because my grandmother couldn't pay the tuition. My mom was devastated, because she loved school and was one of the brightest in her class. Soon after that incident, my mom and her family fled Vietnam for a better life in America. My mom never got to go back and finish school, and even today she works a random job as a nail tech.Both have said they regret not attending college.
That's the reason why I'm so adamant about earning my BSN. Someday, I hope I'll be able to help my mom go back to school... To support her, like she supports me.Nov 30, '12None of my grandparents went to school past 10th grade. Both parents graduated H.S. (Dad by the skin of his teeth). Mom spent a good portion of her working years in a management position that required a BS degree. She was the only one of her team without the BS degree but worked her way into the position with skill and grace under pressure. Dad worked his entire life as a mechanic. I grew in a white picket fence environment and generally had what most other kids had.
I said I wanted to be a nurse as a very young kid and parents wasted no time pushing me to be college material, although they ultimately only provided lots of emotional support and no money. I have no doubt that they are still my biggest fans and very proud of all I have accoomplished.
My husband has very average intellegence but hated school and dropped out in 10th grade. He has a fantastic work ethic and has made more dollars/hr than me the entire 20 years I've known him (union operating engineer).
I am now faced with 2 older teenagers. My daughter is highly driven towards educational success and is currently at a local private university for healthcare administration. Using 50% + 50% Mom funds. My 17 yrs old son struggles with school due to dyslexia but he knows that I won't accept anything less than a HS diploma and doesn't fight me on this. We did discuss last year tho that he probably is not college material. He is currently in a HS vocational welding program and will have a welding certificate when he graduates. From there he plans to go directly to the NAVY and after that join the local union with his Dad. I suspect when it's all said and done, my son will make more dollars/hr than my daughter despite the educational difference.
I guess the point of my ramble is life is what you choose to make it and the effort you are willing to put into it. Commuter, I've been reading you posts for some time now and you have a lot to be proud of. Your college education has allowed you to obtain some of your dreams but never forget...it also has a lot to do with the sheer determination and drive you put into the effort.Dec 1, '12I am also a first generation college student. 1 of my parents later in life got a ged, the other has some hs. Both of them are smart but had some difficult life circumstances growing up. Working as pre teens etc, no parental support for one of them as a teen. They had pretty good labor jobs and made pretty ok money I suppose . Because I grew up where many children had teen parents, ones who didnt want to work, had really low paying jobs I considered myself really well off but in retrospect was lower middle class. They valued education, my mother especially. My dad was a do whatever you want type parent. I did really well in school so I expected to go to college to get a degree in a field like nursing where jobs were plenty ( where when i was in hs) and well paying. my parents encouraged it ,when prompted, if I majored in a vocational type of field.. They thought I was pretty smart and had a chance of succeeding in becoming a nurse which to them is a big step up income wise. Also they and their friends worked as roofers, construction , cashiers, factories. They knew some of those were mostly only for men or very low paying. The factories were dead. They had friends whose children were nurses and engineers so they knew about gen ed classes and the rigors of school from that Growing up though, I knew alot of kids whose parents discouraged higher education and didnt care about even hs. It is very difficult to overcome that. and not many people can.
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