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Challenges of Being a First-Generation College Student

By Jessica Hernandez Blanco

College is like a race. There are those who lead, those at the median, and those who never finish. Those with determination cross the finish line and succeed in achieving higher education.

Although not everyone is rewarded a medal, everyone deserves to reach the finish line. Unfortunately, this does not occur for many students in America, where the number of college dropouts is alarming.

According to, approximately 23 percent of students leave college before graduating due to its unaffordability. Students who do not graduate college make 35 percent less annually than those who do, which leads to the challenge of funding college for succeeding generations.

Further, 40 percent of dropouts are students whose parents did not attend college. This is a first-generation college student to break the cycle of the inability to fund college for the next generations.

Barry University’s first-generation students identify with these and other challenges and agree that getting their degree is not easy.

Sophomore criminology major Amanda Gonzales Garcia came to the U.S. from Cuba and has overcome many barriers in order to continue her path through higher education.

“It was very hard to adjust to the language, but also to the U.S customs,” said Garcia. “My family always put education on a very high standard. Since I got here, I put my education first at all times.”

Garcia recognizes the pressure of being a first-generation student because she’s been on her own trying to combat it.

“It is very hard to find somebody that can [relate] with you on different things,” Garcia said. “I'm trying to better myself but there's a lot of pressure in a lot of ways.”

This pressure comes partially from financial aid, which played a role in her decision to attend Barry.

“When you come from another country you must start doing jobs that you do not like to be able to meet your family needs, which is what my parents did while I was young,” said Garcia. “However, when the decision of which college to attend came, I had to choose one that provided me with the most help and high-quality education, and Barry suited with all that.”

Kayori Janaia Hanna, a sophomore general studies major, also feels the pressure. However, while she describes her beginnings at Barry as overwhelming, Hanna is also grateful for this experience.

“It was a good experience and I learned a lot,” said Hanna. “There are still things that I need to work more on.”

For Hanna, the pressure comes from college debt. Still, she tries to remain positive.

“I am building up debt for sure,” said Hanna. “But I have faith that I am going to get a career that is going to allow me to pay it all.”

Besides pressure, Hanna recognizes that being first-generation brings responsibility for the succeeding generation.

“I have a younger sister,” said Hanna. “I have to make sure that I'm doing good in college to show her how to do things when she asks me for advice.”

Garcia and Hanna both give advice to all first-generation students.

“Manage your time wisely,” said Garcia. “Surround yourself with positive individuals that will help and guide you to achieve what you want to do in your life.”

Hanna agrees, adding that being aware is key.

“Recognize distraction. Sometimes you are kind of blinded by them,” Hanna said. “It could be friends or choosing to go to a cafeteria instead of going to study.”

Garcia and Hanna can both attest that college is like a race. First-generation students usually find themselves behind, but with effort and dedication, they can overcome challenges and reach the finish line.

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