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I’m a first generation student – Where do I belong?

Fernando Gomes
Fernando Gomes, Assistant Dean of Admission

First-gen. If you’re not familiar with the term, that’s okay, because I’m about to tell you why it’s so important. If you are familiar with the term, its likely had an impact in your life and how you view yourself, especially while you figure out which college to go to.

Short for first-generation, first-gen refers to a group of students who will be the first in their family to graduate with a four-year degree. Why is this so important? Many times, if a student is first-gen, they don’t have the benefit of asking a parent, or even an older sibling, about how to navigate the college process, much less what to expect in college. Some families simply not have a college-bound attitude in their household. But it’s important to note that no matter the story, first-gen students will always be deserving of a college education.

I like to sometimes reflect on my own experiences as a first-gen student. I grew up in the greater DC area, the child of two immigrants. For me, the term “first-gen” was two-fold. Not only would I be the first in my family to complete a college degree, but I was also among the first generation in my family to be born in the United States, and live completely and fully in this country.

First generation. First generation college graduate. First generation American.

In high school, I didn’t truly understand what these terms meant, let alone their weight. What I did know is that I was supposed to be grateful for being born in this country, or so my mom told me, as she frequently reflected leaving a war-torn El Salvador with nothing but the clothes on her back and her younger brother by her side.

My college search process was, to put it lightly, haphazard. Everything I knew about college I gleaned from movies and TV, so I scoured every brochure I got in the mail in the search for my “dream school.” Did I achieve that? Well, I made it to a college that I ended up falling in love with, but that’s a story for another day.

I’ll reflect more on what I wish I knew in another blog post. But looking back on it all now, I’m thankful for my journey and how I got to where I am now. Though my parents may not have known what the CommonApp was, I never questioned their support of my educational goals. At the end of the day, I found a community who accepted me for who I was entirely, first-gen story and all. 

First-gen students at Juniata make up about a third of our total population. As we tell our students to think about who they are, we encourage each and every one of our applicants to embrace your story and feel empowered to share it with us. Are you a first-gen student who has a question about how the process works? Don’t be afraid to ask! No matter the question, and no matter your story, you will have a place here in our community.