What I’ve learned as a first-generation student

Miguel standing on Horsetooth Rock

At Colorado State, a first-generation student is one whose parent(s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re a future first-generation student reading this, congratulate yourself! Whether you are still considering college or about to start classes, you have worked hard and made it this far in your academic journey. Being a first-generation scholar is not always easy.

My name is Miguel Banuelos-Garcia, and I’m a first-generation scholar attending Colorado State University. I am currently in my final year pursuing a Communications Studies degree with a double minor in Legal and Media Studies. There are three important things I have learned thus far in my academic journey, and I would like to share them with you.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

We have probably all heard this phrase before and it was not until my first year in college that I learned the meaning behind it — the people you meet can change your life. Make it a point to make connections in college.

Prioritize getting involved and meeting people. College is the perfect time to start challenging yourself and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable: The more you begin to challenge yourself, the more experiences you will have.

During your college experience, you will meet thousands of people. I encourage you to take the opportunity to build your network and grow relationships with them. You never know who might change your life and be able to provide you with a new opportunity. I have found both work and academic opportunities thanks to the staff and students I’ve met at CSU.

Don’t believe in luck. Believe in opportunity.

Every day we make decisions that help us move forward in our lives. We come across opportunities that will enhance our academic journey and we must be wise in the decisions we make. Take advantage of the opportunities you see in college — not everyone will have the same privilege as you. Be ambitious and never stop finding ways to help yourself grow into the person you would like to become.

Always be aware that not everything you plan will work out and that is okay. Remain gracious and keep your head held high. For instance, I started out as a double major at CSU. After some time, I realized that getting outside experience through jobs and internships was more important to me than double majoring, so I dropped my second major.

That was a tough choice, but it was right for my goals. It’s important to focus in on the opportunities that are right for you.

Do not quit.

There have been numerous times in my life where I wanted to just stop what I was doing and quit. I have no doubt that you will deal with moments like these, too.

On these occasions, remind yourself that you’re not just letting yourself down, but you might be letting those who believe in you down, as well. Whether it’s family, mentors, friends, or past educators, these people believe in you.

You must keep pushing forward until you are satisfied with the level of higher education you wish to achieve. Remind yourself that you are a first-generation scholar — there is great power in that. Know that you’re not just doing this for yourself but you’re doing it for the people you wish to inspire.

If at any point you struggle and consider dropping out of school, please, please reach out and get help first. CSU has tutoring and counseling services that can help you get back on track.

We’re paving the way and that’s something to be proud of.

These three takeaways have influenced my academic journey. I hope they helped you learn something new or relate. My biggest piece of advice is to congratulate yourself every single day. Every semester that goes by you are one step closer to achieving your academic goals.

Remember that you are paving the way for other first-generation scholars as you pave the way for yourself. Continue to learn and grow and promise yourself that you will not give up. You’re a leader.

What does it mean to be first gen?

Being first creates excitement as well as challenges.

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Miguel Banuelos-Garcia is a CSU student and a first-generation scholar. He is pursuing a Communications Studies degree with a double minor in Legal and Media Studies.