12 Things I’ve Learned as a First-Generation College Graduate

Coming from a large family filled with dynamic personalities and conflicting food choices, one would think that the decision to go to college would be an easy one to make.

Coming from a large family filled with dynamic personalities and conflicting food choices, one would think that the decision to go to college would be an easy one to make.

Who wouldn’t want to spread their wings and be released from the grips of parental guidance and congested room sharing at the age of 18, to later embark on a new journey filled with late night partying, all you can eat buffet style dining, and endless refund checks (not so endless looking back).

But coming from a background where no one in your immediate family successfully enrolled and graduated from an accredited university, that choice wasn’t an easy one to make.

For me, the decision on whether or not I wanted to pursue higher education came at a time in my life where I was filled with self-doubt, anxiety and a deep confusion of who or what I wanted to become not only for myself but for my family as well.

“Who would help my mom pay the bills?”, “Am I being selfish for pursuing an expensive education?”, “How am I going to pay for my books?”. All of these questions and then some were my thoughts throughout my freshman and sophomore year of undergrad.

Proudly enough, 5 years later, with a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communications, I can successfully say that I have made it through the trenches of obtaining a college degree.

With that being said, here are twelve things that I’ve learned as a first-generation college graduate.

If your parents are broke, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be broke!


So many African American families don’t realize the importance of building generational wealth and it is because of the lack of financial literacy within the black community that many families believe that living check to check will be their fate.

As a first-generation college graduate, I learned that you have to take accountability for your spending habits and educate yourself on the ways in which money works, and how to make money ultimately work for you.

You are what you eat, so don’t get mad if your body isn’t “snatched”


In the new-aged world full of IG models and Herbalife trainers, you’d be pissed if you left undergrad thirty pounds heavier than when you first enrolled. However, this isn’t something that you should beat yourself up about.

With proper diet, exercise, and the desire to burn off the extra fat, you’ll be looking great in no time! Don’t let the images that of what you see online make you feel crappy about yourself, but keep in mind that the saying is true “you are what you eat”, so go out and get fit!

A degree will NOT guarantee a job in your field of study, and its OK!


Please do not believe the hype of the people who come out of college swearing up and down that they are going to be making six figures in the next year because they just got a job in their field.

Blah blah blah!

According to Jaison Abel and Richard Dietz of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in 2013, data has shown that only 27% of college grads receive a job in their prospective major. Taking into consideration that this number has risen over the past four years with a 6% increase, researchers also suggest that not being able to find a job in your major is not the end of the world.

So quit lying to your friends about that “web developer” position that you just scored, when in reality you work at the mall as a sales associate. It’s okay, this won’t be your occupation for the rest of your life unless you want it to be.

Sallie Mae will have to wait


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After graduation, I started taking the conscious effort of being an adult and paying off my debt, but then I had to take a hard look at myself and my finances, and reconnect with the things that I enjoyed doing! There’s only so much budgeting a person can take!

By no means am I encouraging getting into further debt and not paying the folks what you owe, but we all have aspirational objectives, priorities, and responsibilities that we would like to accomplish, and in the long run none of those things will get done if your constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul.

However, if the thought of not paying off your college debt scares you, here are a few sources that will help you in jump starting the process of paying off student loans.

Your siblings won’t put “Respeck on your name”


Coming from a family of eight in total, I swore I was going to get the respect that I finally deserved from my brothers and sisters once I walked across that stage.

I was wrong…

Just because you may feel like you bossed up, and became the prized trophy of the family, it doesn’t mean that your siblings will look at you any differently. To them, your still that ugly, no talent having, can’t dance trying, buck tooth smiling, brother/sister.

People’s true colors will begin to show


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The infamous no new friends ritual continues to take place throughout different stages of a persons’ life.

In high school, there’s the “two-faced crew”, you know the friends that would smile in your face and talk reckless behind your back. In college, you have the “shade throwers”, the people who would just rain on your parade every step of the way and after college, you encounter the “Debbie downers” who can’t ever seem to uplift you because they are always going through something much more important.

In essence, all three of these characteristics can be seen across various people within your life and for me, that became very apparent once I graduated college. You would think that at the age of 24 you no longer have to worry about such toxic relationships, but they still exist well after your teen years. And sometimes, these aren’t just friends, but family members can be displaying negative behaviors as well.

Experiencing episodes of depression


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Mental illness and disorders amongst African Americans is a greatly missed topic of discussion and for many first-generation college students who grew up in impoverished areas, depression can easily consume you well after graduation if gone unnoticed.

My experience with depression came soon after my semi-permanent move to Lancaster. I just started working in my field as an account manager and I thought things were going great! It wasn’t until I came home after a few months of working and felt an intense feeling of sadness and confusion. Those feelings of self-doubt and anxiety began to creep up again and I knew that feeling all too well.

Although anyone can develop a mental health problem not just college students, African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and environmental barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Common mental health disorders among African Americans include:

  • Depression
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Suicide, among young African American men
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because African Americans are more likely to be victims of violent crime

For more informational on depression and ways to receive help, click here.

All of your sh*t will NOT be together


“I gotta get my life together” is a commonly used term amongst my friends and I that is used when reflecting on our shitty life habits. Don’t get me wrong, we all have pretty successful lives thus far coming straight out of college, but there is more growth and success that we all aspire to achieve.

As a first-generation college graduate, those who haven’t experienced the trials and tribulations of college life think that life becomes much easier once you get a degree, but in theory, that’s when life really begins!

You won’t instantly get that brand new car, or one bedroom condo, with a lucrative 401K in the bank, so relax and be appreciative of what you have now.

HurtBae and F*ckBoys will still exist


You could not tell me that I wasn’t going to run into the man of my dreams soon after graduation! At the time I was already dating someone for a few years and I thought I had it all figured out. However, once that fell apart, I quickly fell back into the pool of singles who have encountered their fair share of mind games and trust issues.

It’s easy to think that everything will be perfect once you accomplish a successful milestone such as graduating college, but life still happens and we are all still prone to the mistakes of the heart.

Don’t let that degree fool you boo.


Parent’s just don’t understand


From the definition of your major, what job markets are hiring, and why you have to complete another semester before you graduate, all first-generation college graduates remember the hour long conversations that you would have to have with your parents in order to explain the undergrad blues.

Luckily for me, my parents just let me do my own thing and didn’t pride themselves too much into my school life, but for those of you who weren’t so lucky, you know how annoying the question “What did you go to school for again” can be.

Everyone will think that you “got it like that”


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Between paying for your own healthcare, rent, cell phone bill, two dollar Tuesday link up’s and other living essentials, somehow some way everyone (especially your parents) think that you have a boat load of money because you just graduated!

Like how sis?

I’m not sure where this assumption came from, but we are just as broke if not more once we come out of college. However, if you read the first thing that I learned, then you’ll quickly see that you don’t have to be broke for the rest of your days.

Work-life balance is extremely important


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Although it is said that millennials are the hardest working group within the working structure, we also desire to create a way of life where we can play as hard as we work.

An article that I came across by Natalie Bacon discusses the importance of creating a work-life balance despite the career path that you are in or want to accomplish.

For the start of my career after graduation, I struggled with this for a few months but quickly got into the habit of making time for the things that I enjoy. I joined my local gym and started reading more books for my leisure and I know see and understand the value of having balance throughout your life.

May 7th officially marks one year since I graduated Millersville University of Pennsylvania and although I have only been out from under the late night studying sessions and final exam routines for a brief moment in time, I can honestly say that I’ve learned a lot thus far.

As a first-generation college graduate, there is a lot that you will learn and process on your own. If you are fortunate enough to have cultivated lasting relationships after you received your degree, these are the people that will help you through the motions when people back home don’t get it.

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