April 14, 2023

Next Stop, College: A First-Gen Student Shares Tips for Students Entering Their First Semester

Do you know any students entering college this fall? There is a lot to prepare for, from housing to financial aid. Education Forward Arizona Intern Daniel Hernandez shares his tips as a first-generation student to help those starting their first semester of college.

My name is Daniel Hernandez and I am a first-generation college student at Grand Canyon University. I’m a year away from graduating and it has been quite a journey. I’ve had to navigate college mostly on my own, but have been able to receive help from my peers and friends. 

Starting college can be a very daunting experience, especially if you are a first-gen student like me, but don’t worry because I have some tips and tricks from my time in school to help you out. 

If you haven’t submitted it already, make sure you complete your FAFSA form as soon as possible (Arizona students receive an average of $4,600 in grants for college, so don’t miss out!) 

Early summer is a good time to check with your school’s financial aid office to make sure that you have all your paperwork complete and that you understand your financial aid package. You can also explore your options if there’s a gap between the cost of your school (and other expenses like housing, food and books) and the financial aid you’ve been offered. 

Next up, housing. Your college or university will typically reach out to you with some different “packages” and options if living on campus is an option. I would suggest doing your research to choose the dorm that fits your best needs. Universities have deadlines for housing applications so this will most likely be the first thing you complete upon graduation (or even before). Housing on and near campus can be limited so fill out your forms or begin your search as early as possible!

Along with housing, comes meal plans to consider. Certain campuses may require you to purchase a meal plan if you plan on living on campus. Whether you live on campus or not, food costs can really add up. If you’re having trouble affording meals anytime during the semester, be sure to look up the campus food pantry which offers food and other items at low or no cost or other assistance that might be available.

If you can, use your summer to relax, have fun and do some college shopping. (Some companies offer student discounts on laptops for schools and other supplies, so make sure to shop around.) Spend some time with your family because once the semester starts, coursework can be a lot and you might not have enough free time to do all the things you’re used to doing.

Student portals usually open up in the summer and you can get a head start on the curriculum by looking at anything your future professors have posted in your class forum.

Typically during the first week of college there are a lot of orientation events for your campus, student clubs and classes you’ll want to attend. There will be a ton of student leaders on campus during the early part of the semester to help answer any questions you have. Take the first two to three weeks to get accustomed to where your classes are, and get to know your professors and your classmates. The Success Advisers at Education Forward Arizona agree that making friends, having a mentor and getting to know your professors makes getting through college a lot easier.

Finally, the big takeaways for me during my time in college have been: 

  • Ask all the questions
  • Friends in class make things more enjoyable
  • Take advantage of any resources your school offers (such as tutoring or career services)
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it

College can be overwhelming at times, but with a bit of guidance and support, it can also be a fulfilling and rewarding experience. Good luck to all the incoming college students out there!