High School as a First-Gen Student

3 mins read

First-generation students are those whose parent(s) did not complete a 4-year college or obtain a university degree. Some first-generation students at M-A shared how language barriers and lack of familiarity with the college application system were unique challenges to their dreams of college success. 

Senior Camila Gallardo, who immigrated to the U.S. in 2019, wants to be a physician and pursue her doctorate degree at UC San Francisco (UCSF). Gallardo said, “Being a first-generation student meant that I had to guide myself with school and scholarship applications. I had to figure out what major I wanted to pursue and what classes to take. My first language is not English, so I felt held back in classes with curriculum taught in a language that was hard for me to comprehend. I felt different from my peers in the sense that I couldn’t receive the same advice and opportunities as them.” 

College and Career Counselor Mai Ngyuen, who was a first-generation student herself, said, “There is a significant population of students at M-A whose parents or guardians have not finished a bachelor’s degree.”

College and Career Advisors actively encourage students to join programs such as AVID, Future Grads, and The Computer Academy that specifically help aid low-income and first-generation students with the college process. 

Gallardo added, “It’s harder for me to fill out scholarships, college applications, and financial aid given the lack of resources we have, but I’ve found it useful to have my friends and teachers help me translate documents when they could.” 

Ngyuen described many of the ways that M-A tries to support students with these needs. She said, “By the end of the student’s senior year, our advisors help students review their financial aid offers so that they can make informed decisions about their college options.” 

Gallarado said, “I hope other first-generation students feel inclined to ask and seek for additional help and resources when wanting to pursue something new and accomplish their goals. I feel a lot of the first-gen students I’m around are too scared to ask for help to pursue something new because they feel they may be humiliated.”

Freshman student athlete Cadavion Ardoin wishes to go to a four-year university and pursue his dream of playing Division I football, but believes that not having parents experienced with advanced classes puts him at a disadvantage.  

Cadavion said, “My mom has always pushed me to attend a higher education and make use of a degree that she never received. I know I want to attend college, but I’m unmotivated to take AP and honor classes in the future because I know that my parents can’t provide me with the right resources and advice.” 

Junior Valeria Barron faced the same concerns, but found AVID to be significantly helpful for her academic journey. Barron said, “I have Arminda King for AVID, and I absolutely love her. For four years, I had AVID by my side and got the help I needed with my college application and scholarships. Now, I even get to share my experience with my younger siblings who are on their way to M-A.”

Although high school students are expected to step outside of their comfort zones and prepare for the next phase of their lives, this expectation is a lot harder to meet for first-generation students. 

Junior Luis Jaimes said, “Coming from a family of immigrants, there’s a lot more pressure in my family to pursue a four-year college. Although they wanted me to excel, they also never had a higher education themselves, so the advice they could give me on applying to colleges and what extracurriculars to do was always very limited.” 

Future Grads is another college resource that supports students through college graduation by working with students starting from 10th grade. Future Grads teacher Kelli Ben said, “Our program has been supporting students since their sophomore year and hosts after school workshops once a month.We go over college information up until the students get their bachelors degree to provide them the advice they might not have had access to growing up.”

Intercultural Leadership advisor Karina Flores takes pride in her first-generation status. Flores explained, “At a very young age, I was well aware of the lack of resources and opportunities afforded to my parents in Mexico. I accepted my experience as a low-income, first-generation student which helped me accept my failures and mistakes within my education as an opportunity for growth. I believe that this is what my teachers saw in me, and while they knew I wasn’t earning the highest grades, they saw how hard I was working.” 

As a message to all first-generation students, Flores shared, “It can feel lonely sometimes to always be working towards a future you doubt will ever come. However, when that future you dreamed of and worked for comes true, make sure to look back and know you also had fun and made the most of the journey.” 

Akemi is a sophomore in her first year of journalism. Her stories can range from restaurant reviews to covering events, opinions, and opportunities surrounding M-A's community. Akemi is on M-A's debate team and loves to read and catch up on current events.

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