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Celebrating First-Generation Students

Category: Fraternity

Mindy Marshall

Gamma, Butler

We’ve seen the data: More than 30% of college students are first-generation students. What does this mean? What is more unique about the college experience for a first-generation student as opposed to a continuing-generation student? I recently sat down with one of our staff members, FHC Property Manager Shelby Allen, to discuss her experience as a first-generation student to help us better understand the gifts and challenges for these young people.

Shelby was very fortunate that, from a very young age, she was encouraged to pursue higher education. Her family and teachers taught her to value education, which resulted in a straight-A average throughout her educational experience. Shelby’s mom, especially, saw higher education as the key to a higher quality of life for her daughter. “Even though she never attended college herself, my mom was very supportive through the entire process. We both knew that attending a university would allow me to pursue my dreams and open doors to new opportunities.” It was this kind of encouragement that helped Shelby know that she wanted a four-year degree from a young age, and she never considered anything else.

So, attending college was a given for Shelby. But she needed to figure out how to get there. For one of the first times in her life, her family couldn’t help.

"The college admissions process is very complex, even for those who do not identify as first-generation. I had to identify my long-term educational goals quickly and determine the steps I needed to take in high school to stay on track and be successful.”

There were admissions applications, scholarship applications, program auditions, and financial aid (the dreaded FAFSA!). Navigating these systems can be intimidating even with the best support system and knowledge base. Shelby jumped in and figured it out, mostly on her own. A guidance counselor at her high school assisted a bit, but she found her coaches to be her primary source of support as well as other mentors and teachers. She remembers sitting at a computer at her high school filling out applications and learning to traverse an entirely new world.

“When I realized my family did not have the knowledge and resources to assist me through the process, I turned to other trusted adults in my life for additional support.”

When asked if navigating this process helped her prepare for college, Shelby responds with a resounding YES. “It gave me confidence. Imposter syndrome is common with first-generation students. We don’t have the support system and have to figure it out as we go. When you do all the legwork, and learn to meet deadlines, and see that you CAN do it on your own, it serves you well when completing coursework and homework. Time management is key to success.”

Shelby Allen, Fraternity Housing Corporation (FHC) property manager, earned a BFA and BA at the University of Central Oklahoma and a master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Indiana University.