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High Pressure for First-Generation Student

Dear Harlan: My parents moved to the U.S. when I was 7 years old. They both worked full-time jobs and have given up everything to make sure I succeed. Education is the most important thing to them. I’m going to college in a few weeks, and I’m excited and nervous. I was able to get a grant and scholarships to pay for it, and it’s an ultra-competitive top school. I’m so afraid of disappointing my parents. They have given up everything for me, and I’m scared I will let them down. It’s a ton of pressure. They don’t want me to do anything other than study. They don’t want me to be in any organizations or activities. They were against me living on campus, but all first-year students need to live on campus. How can I manage their expectations? Do you have any advice? — Too Much Pressure

Dear Too Much Pressure:  Find your people on campus first – people you can lean on for help, support and guidance. Worry about your expectations second. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34 percent of undergraduates were the first in their families to go to college during the 2011-’12 academic year. As a first-generation student, you are the most at risk of not graduating. You, more than anyone, need to find your people on campus. You need a support system in place on campus. Reach out to professionals, counselors and staff members who work with first-generation students. Find students who have similar backgrounds. Visit the counseling office. Build a support system. Only then can you begin to manage your parents’ expectations. At the same time, be patient with them; they love you. Connect them to the right people who can help them understand what you need to do to be successful. While they think you need to focus solely on academics, research says that an involved student is a more successful student. Disguise your campus involvement as academic, leadership and service opportunities. If your parents don’t support your decision, listen, love and lean on other people to guide you (and them). Your parents’ expectations belong to them. Your future belongs to you.

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