How to navigate the internal and external pressures of being a first-generation student while making career decisions

As a new semester is upon us, we are immersed in new opportunities, and academic and career goals. However, we all know that as first-generation students, our decisions are not only reflective of our own—they represent our families, communities, and future generations. With that being said, there are many internal and external pressures that first-generation students face, which also impact our academic and career decisions.

“Internal Pressure” is referred to as the events, and thoughts that occur within us. This includes success anxiety, which can be interpreted as the fear that you will not be as successful as you anticipated, considered an example to people in your life, or how people will respond to your level of success. There is also an urge to satisfy everyone in our families and communities since we are the first in our families to attend higher education. Along with this urge, there are also many psychological factors to being a first-generation student, including shame, confusion, guilt, and anxiety. According to the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, authors Khadijah Both Watkins and Gene Beresin said, “Many first-gen students feel bad that they have an opportunity other family members did not have, as well as guilt over feeling as though they are rejecting their past and community.”

“External Pressure” describes the outside forces that try to influence our decisions. Examples of this include parents wanting you to pursue a certain career since you are in higher education through “living out their dreams”, by taking courses based on their suggestions and applying to certain companies and jobs. Other external factors include more social challenges when deciphering academic and career resources, and discrimination, which can all impact your career decisions.  

However, despite these challenges, constantly remember that you were accepted in this amazing institution for a reason, especially for demonstrating hard work. Also, you are not alone. This year, the University announced that 27.5% of Storrs first-year students are first-generation. There is a very strong community of first-generation students that are here to uplift, support, motivate, and share resources with you, so you can have the best college experience possible. Finally, remember that although you are representing so many for your academic and career experiences, your decisions are ultimately up to you! Your individuals and support group will still be very proud of your success, and even more proud that you are happy!

By Alexis Staten
Alexis Staten