The best things in life come from taking the biggest risks. As a first-generation college student, I would like to applaud you for your hard work and determination, for without that you would not be here today. Speaking from experience, our lack of experience is precisely what stops you and I and others like us from going to college. The resources simply aren’t available for us, or they are not as easy to obtain. Without people around us to give us advice and guide us, it can deter you from ever even trying. Every person has a story, every person at this school got here through their own paths, some of which were harder than others. If you are in the same boat, welcome aboard, I’m going to be your tour guide. As you will read, this is the advice I wish someone could have told me, and I would like to pass it onto you:
1. Apply for scholarships
While you will be able to apply for loans and grants through the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), it is always great to get free money that you won’t have to pay back. The FAFSA is best for helping to pay for tuition, room and board, a meal plan, and the occasional textbook. It is amazing how many are out there for the taking, some will be national, or restricted to just your county. Simply typing a search into google can return pages of results. There’s even a scholarship for first-generation students and people who are left-handed. There is no loss in trying. If it weren’t for bright futures and the scholarships I was awarded, I would have been unable to go to college, despite having been accepted. In fact, I almost didn’t go. Before finding out that I would be receiving these scholarships, I had learned that neither my family nor myself could pay for me to live in Tallahassee while going to school. Only through these scholarships was I able to attend FSU.
Once you get here, the loneliness will set in, making you even more homesick. This is your home away from home and as such, you should plant roots, find people who share similar interests with you. There is no better place to do this than the involvement fair. FSU has dozens upon dozens of clubs to join, examples including the Surf Club, Belly Dancing, various religious groups, Women in Business, clubs for STEM majors, the possibilities are endless. If you are not involved, then you aren’t trying. The people you meet here could be your friends for the rest of your life. Plus, they can offer you guidance. This is where I met the kindest group of girls who have been with me throughout my entire college experience. I wouldn’t be who I am without them and their support.
3. Attend the part-time job fair
If you are going to be working while in school, there are a couple options. The FAFSA does include a section about the work-study program. This will provide you with job opportunities on-campus that can support you in paying for your schooling. Another option is the part-time job fair. Here you can mingle and communicate with job opportunities in the area, including some that are on-campus. Bring at least five copies of your résumé and keep your mind open. Also, I recommend dressing as you would for an interview. Keep it professional, these are your potential employers. Personally, I ended up getting an interview shortly after this. Take chances, apply to as many jobs as possible, and at least one will stick.
4. Talk to your advisors
When you first begin here at FSU, I recommend visiting your advisors with questions. It never hurts to ask questions. Especially if you are having trouble with your classes. They offer the best recommendations. At least once a semester you should be stopping in to make sure you’re on track. I owe it to my advisors for guiding me through and getting me to graduate in three years instead of four. Plus, they knew which classes would be awful to take and what I could take instead to still receive the credit!
5. Don’t procrastinate
Seriously, don’t. If you think you’re stressed now, procrastinating in college is a whole new level of stress. Get into the habit of breaking up your studying and projects over a series of days so that you are able to retain the information better. This also reduces your stress the day before the test and boosts your confidence. Plus, who doesn’t want to get more than three hours of sleep the night before a test?
6. Do your research on the resources offered
Knowledge is power and knowing the resources offered can alleviate some of the stress you may feel about your major, your career, interviews, and finances. For example, FSU offers countless resources to encourage students to grow into their careers, practice interview skills, better their résumés, and receive in-depth and supportive advising. Not to mention, the ACE studio for tutoring and the many other study groups taking place at Strozier at all times. Here is a list of some of FSU’s resources: https://studentaffairs.fsu.edu/resources/resources-for-students.
7. Turn in your dorm contract as soon as possible
This is important: if you are living on campus, turn in the contract as soon as you can because you will get to choose from a list of dorms and the earlier you submit, the sooner your time slot. The choices are much better and more open than if you submit them later. In fact, if you are one of the last people, you may risk having to wait until people cancel their contract because all dorms are full. I thought to wait a week wouldn’t hurt and I spent my freshman year in Salley Hall. No offense Salley, they were great memories.
8. Read reviews on dorms
The list of dorms is provided on FSU’s website; however, some dorms are newer than others and have better layouts and amenities. For example, Salley Hall is one of the oldest dorms on campus. Its layout is unique to itself. This was my dorm freshman year, so I am not trying to deter you from choosing it; although, it is not the best dorm to live in. If anything, your roommate and suitemates can bond over the distinctive qualities of Salley Hall.
9. Download the myFSU app
The myFSU app is a great tool to access your classes, drop/add, and canvas. In addition to these resources specific to you, it also provides the dining options that are open along with their menus, information on financial aid, graduation, and athletics. It is a great resource to have on hand with all of your information in one place. It is also great for adding or dropping classes quickly, viewing past classes, searching your course calendar, and more.
10. Career Center
The Career Center is an amazing resource that FSU offers its students. Here, students can run through practice interviews, create and edit their résumés, and find mentors. Not to mention, they host several events throughout the semester for students to interact and learn about their career fields and connect with people in these fields. This is one of those resources to know about that I mentioned earlier. Follow this link to learn more: https://www.career.fsu.edu/.
11. C.A.R.E. Program
The C.A.R.E. Program is focused on providing help and resources for those who are at a disadvantage, whether in education or finances. They encourage the growth and abilities of all students, first-generation students included. To learn more about what they do and how you can get involved, follow this link: https://care.fsu.edu/about-care.
12. Financial Aid and the FAFSA
There was a period of time where my financial aid almost fell through and I almost lost every ability to come to this amazing school. I had done everything I could in my education, I had been accepted by FSU and I accepted them. I know the stress of doing everything you can to make ends meet to accomplish your dream. The FAFSA is a resource for you and I. The FAFSA compiles your information along with that of your parents and creates an estimate of how much aid you will need to attend. This will come in a combination of grants and loans, which differs from person to person. Before calling (they keep you on hold for a long time), try this link and see if they can answer your question: https://financialaid.fsu.edu/.
13. Build a support system
Your parents may not know everything you need to know for college, but that does not mean you cannot find a support system that will provide this for you. Try making new friends and collaborating with others going to school with you, they may have information that can benefit you and help you along the way. By attending the involvement fair, I was able to meet the group of girls who still inspire me and encourage my growth to this day. When your parents haven’t attended college, you are left to find the information elsewhere. Having a group of peers who have likely been through similar situations is advantageous because they can fill in those gaps.
14. Participate in campus events
It can be discouraging feeling alone in all of this, but we can’t have you quitting now. FSU has several events throughout the year which are free to students and can help in the process of meeting new people. Take a stroll out to Landis Green, you’re sure to find something to do. One day, you’re going to look back on this and the last thing you want is to regret a single moment.
Textbooks–just when we thought we had paid for everything. Don’t panic yet, though, they don’t have to be expensive; in fact, you may not even have to buy them. In my experience, some professors do not require the textbook on the syllabus. I prefer to wait until the first day and buy my textbooks after I have learned more about the class. Not to mention, the campus bookstore is not our best resource for these books. On occasion, you may find a book you can rent for cheap. I recommend Amazon, they display the book, its price, the option for renting or buying, the online stores you can buy it from, and when it will arrive.
16. Meal Plans
Some people choose to be safe rather than sorry when it comes to choosing a meal plan, inevitably choosing the largest one. While this plan is great for those living on campus planning to have a small grocery budget, it may not be suited if you have a kitchen and plan on cooking. In fact, this would be a waste. Be aware of how much you are planning to spend on groceries and cook. How often will you be on campus? Do you think you will like the food enough to eat in the dining hall several times a week? Consider this before purchasing–get your money’s worth of what you choose. FSU meal plans can be found here: https://seminoledining.sodexomyway.com/meal-plans.
17. You’re going to be homesick
We all get homesick, but that does not mean you aren’t meant to be here and that you can’t do this. I distinctly remember sitting in my bed the night I moved into my dorm and crying nonstop. All I could think was that I had never been so far from my parents and I didn’t see how that could change. The key to getting through is finding new friends, making memories, and remembering why you’re here. This is an opportunity, not a prison.
18. Don’t overdo it on your dorm
The idea of getting to use your interior decorating skills you learned from watching HGTV all summer can be overwhelming. However, bring less than you think you need. Storage is great, but five tubs may be too much. Paintings can look great, but how much wall space will you really have? Pillows are comfortable though, so bring as many as you want of those.
19. The classes are not “too hard” for you
Monday morning at 9am, I sat in Baby Bio (the nickname for the basic biology class for non-biology majors) and all I could think was that I was not smart enough to do this and that I was going to fail. Yes, in baby bio I was thinking this to myself. Folks, we learned about dinosaurs, it was not “too hard”. Do not doubt yourself, you can do this. You got into this school for a reason.
20. Don’t give up on yourself
This is the most important rule of all. The entirety of this process is going to be tiring and daunting but it will be worth it, it will always be worth it. When things are hard, when you are stuck, when you’re facing a problem you don’t know how to solve, pick yourself up because someone has the answer and you’re going to get through this. I like to remind myself, if it were easy, everybody would do it. The best things in life do not come to us easily, we must work for them. Every late night in Strozier, every early morning study session followed by four classes, a meeting, and a 6-hour work shift–all worth it to walk that stage as a graduate of Florida State.