First gen students overcome unique challenges

Students discuss difficulties, from navigating FAFSA alone to breakaway guilt

Like most universities, Ferris has a sizable number of first-generation students. These students are pioneers of their futures and as such, they have had to work through unique challenges 

The definition of a first-generation student is much disputed, but according to the Ferris first-generation admissions homepage “being a first-generation means neither of your parents has earned a bachelor’s degree, regardless of siblings and other relatives.” 

There are many reasons why first-generation students make the decision to attend college. Some students, like dental hygiene senior Alondra Campos, are driven by the need to give back to their family and community.  

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to go to college,” Campos said. I want to give back to my mom. Show her what a brilliant child she raised. Me furthering my education and attending college not only beats stereotypes about my culture, but also makes everyone that helped me reach my goal proud. 

Others had a different plan for life and recently reworked it

I decided to go to college in the middle of my senior year,” social studies education sophomore Gilbert Torres said. “I had always believed I wasn’t going to college, so I didn’t really put effort in high school. I realized how much of a future I could have when I transferred to a new school my senior year and got the best grades I have ever gotten because I didn’t have anyone I knew to distract me.”  

For many students, the journey to college starts in high school. Teachers, classwork and extracurriculars instill the skills needed for future success.  

I had one supporter in high school, and it was my English teacher, Sam Joseph,” Torres said. “He would push me to do better with my essays and with classwork. He was the first teacher I had who actually wanted me to do better in class and if it wasn’t for him, I’d still be struggling with writing and figuring out how to pace myself with school.” 

One thing first-generation students often struggle with is the financial side of attending college, especially the FAFSA. The importance of the document is known, but the shroud of confusion surrounding it remains, and though there are many online resources to help not everyone has equal access to them.  

Even though I was set on my grade and education part of preparing for college I still lacked on some resources,” Campos said. “I did not know how to file my FASFA, TIP or how to even apply for college. Since my family was not financially stable, I knew I had to sign up for scholarships, but I had no idea how to apply for scholarships.” 

Completion of the FAFSA is one of the eligibility requirements for the Tuition Incentive Program (TIP). According to the TIP homepage on, “The Tuition Incentive Program (TIP) encourages eligible Medicaid recipients to complete high school by providing tuition assistance during an eligible student’s qualifying certificate or associate degree program and also during the student’s bachelor’s degree program. These two periods of assistance are referred to as ‘Phase I’ and ‘Phase II’.” Both phases of this program are offered at Ferris.  

“I choose Ferris because they offered the Tuition Incentive Program for all four years,” psychology senior Gabriella Romero said. “I don’t come from a family of money so any money I could get was what was best for me. Especially since I pay for college on my own.”   

In an article for the Washington Post Linda Banks-Santilli, the associate dean for academic affairs at Wheelock College describes breakaway guilt as “one of the biggest struggles first-generation college students face.” This sense of guilt arises from breaking away and leaving their families behind to pursue higher education.  

“Yes, I have this guilty feeling about leaving home, and sometimes it can be a very overwhelming emotion,” Campos said. “My family is extremely close. When I first left, they felt like I was leaving them. They knew I left home for a good reason, but they would constantly use those words to me. It got worse once I started getting more involved on campus and stayed on campus to help with events. It made me feel guilty. I felt like I was making more time for other people, but not to go home and visit my family. 

Not everyone categorizes these heavy feelings as guilt, though. 

It was hard leaving home, but I do not feel guilt for breaking away from the path. My family has been struggling to get someone to finally leave that path and I get to be the one who does what they all wanted,” Torres said.  

Being a first-generation student isn’t easy, but these students have found a way to chart out a new life for themselves and the rewards are significant if the obstacles can stay in their peripheral.