With each graduating class, there are many first generation students who become the first member of their family to complete a college education. While college is a unique experience to everyone, many first-generation students enter college with no clue what to expect as they had no examples before them.
Tiffany Contreras, senior in sociology and criminal justice, and a first-generation student, said she didn’t have a certain expectation enrolling at Iowa State and had no clue what to expect. But thanks to programs like Science Bound, the Academic Program for Excellence (APEX) and the Multicultural Vision Program (MVP), Contreras had resources to help her prepare. This semester, Contreras will be graduating from Iowa State with her bachelor’s degree, a family first.
Through school programs and socializing, Contreras found other first-generation students who understood her journey.
“Most of the people I hung out with and got to know were first-generation college students and it was great to get to know people and talk to people who knew what you were going through,” Contreras said. “We did not all have the same stories and we all had very different experiences but meeting people who knew what you were going through and talking about it was great.”
Contreras said while her mom was not a college graduate she “really helped” in the process of attending Iowa State and making important decisions pertaining to her college education.
“I struggled academically during my first couple of years and it was hard not to feel like I failed my family and my mom,” Contreras said. “I made mistakes in my first two years that could have been preventable so I felt guilty.”
Contreras said she often compared herself to her cousins and their successes.
“Even if my peers were doing better in school than I was, I was constantly being compared to them and I felt like a complete failure,” Contreras said. “I am not sure that the situation would have been any different if I wasn't a first-generation college student, but it did feel like a lot of pressure at some points.”
Despite her struggles, Contreras found her way to her own successes that she could be proud of.
“The first positive outcome is that I am actually graduating with my bachelor's degree! It is a crazy reality that still hasn't hit me yet,” Contreras said. “I learned a lot about myself in college — the best techniques for my learning, what my strengths and weaknesses are and finding a path to a future career.”
While Contreras is now on a path to excel in her dream career, discovering this path was in no means linear, or easy for that matter.
“It is scary coming into college and thinking you know what you want to do and when you get there and realize you were wrong about that,” Contreras said. “I am glad Iowa State helped me find my interest and what I love to do.”
As a first-generation graduate, Contreras encourages other first-generation students to do what they feel is best for them.
“At the end of the day, your college journey and degree is something that only you can control, work hard for and accomplish so you might as well make the experience what you want,” Contreras said. “Take that as you wish, ultimately, you don't want to look back at those three, four or five years and regret the things you did and did not do.”