My parents moved to the United States from Vietnam during the Vietnam war, starting their new life in a country completely unfamiliar to them. For those with immigrant parents, you know how difficult navigating college can be. If neither of your parents went to college, where do you start? This is something I struggled with the most my senior year of high school. I didn’t know what doors were opened or closed for me. From one first generation student to another, let me help you out.
1) SCHOLARSHIPS. Trust me when I say scholarships will be your saving grace. Considering I didn’t have family in the US until 50 years ago, I didn’t have much in college savings. I thought my only options were community college or maybe a CSU since I am from California. Attending a private university never even crossed my mind. It seemed so impossible to me. If anything, private universities offer the most financial aid and grants because they have a lot of private funding. Take USC for example, where they offer over 300 merit scholarships. To be considered you just have to apply by December 1st of your application year. I also applied for the Questbridge and Gates scholarship. Don’t even get me started on scholarships for first generation students! If you needed an extra push to research scholarships, use this as your sign.
2) ESSAYS. My parents don’t speak english very well so I couldn’t go to them with advice on my application essays. Instead, I printed 20 copies and gave them to anyone who could read. This included: my counselor, english teachers from all 4 years of high school, friends, parents of my friends, and anyone bored enough to read them. However, be careful about how much critique you take to heart. It was good to hear what everyone thought, but some of the things they said I didn’t agree with. Make sure it is still you shining through.
3) FAFSA. You must apply for federal student aid, no matter how confusing it is. FAFSA was honestly one of the hardest parts about applying to college. I had no idea what all of the financial jargon meant. Still don’t actually. Since everyone’s FAFSA is going to look different, I can give a couple broad tips. First, if there is a parent of a friend or teacher you feel comfortable with, have them explain what you need to put in every box. If you don’t want to do this, what I did was sit down with my parent’s tax papers from the last two years and Googled everything. They didn’t know what to fill in so I had to take it upon myself to figure it out. This took a while but it is really important all of the information was correct. Also, write down the parent pin somewhere. I made my mom’s account for her so I just made it something I could remember.
4) SCHOOL. Obviously you came across this blog because you have done some research and felt like USC is somewhere you may want to go. Good! Keep going. Do more research and virtual tours and deep digging. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love USC but it wasn’t my dream school since I was five. I made a list of 20 schools ranking them in categories like weather, competitiveness, social life etc. I couldn’t visit any of the colleges because of financial constraints, but I tried to make myself as familiar as possible based on my deep dives. If after all of this you circle back to USC, then go for it! Just make sure you explore many options.
Finally, just relax and know you are not alone. Trust me when I say I know how it feels to think you are powerless. There is an entire generation of students who are all struggling. It is worth it in the end, I promise. Now it is time to go start your own collegiate legacy!