I'm a First-Gen College Student, and This is What Parent Engagement Means to Me.

I'm a rising junior at Swarthmore College, and I interned at CampusESP over the summer. I’m the first in my family to go to college, and this is my experience with family involvement.


1.  I Talk to My Mom Every Day.

I’m going into my third year of college, and I talk to my mom every single day. As much as I try to set boundaries to limit the number of times we talk, I’m her first child and I’m 1,083 miles away from home, so she worries...a lot.

Although my mom calls frequently, her desire to communicate with me isn’t one sided. I love talking to my mom about selecting classes, the latest news on campus and the extracurricular activities I’m involved in. We talk on the phone, text and occasionally Facetime when sending pictures doesn’t satisfy her. Communication is very important to my mom,  as it helps her feel connected to me while I’m far away from home.


2. The College Process is Hard.


I wouldn’t be where I am today without the journey I took to find the resources needed to apply for and get accepted into highly selective institutions. In high school I was a high-achieving student who tirelessly looked for ways to escape an area that lacked resources. I yearned to be in a place where my intellect would be challenged and grow. Unfortunately, my high school didn’t prepare me to reach such places during the college admissions season, and although my parents wanted to be helpful, they weren’t informed enough to help me succeed.

My determination and hard work ultimately led me to a college prep program that offered extensive training for the college and scholarship application process. This college prep program showed me how to apply to selective institutions, compare financial aid letters, understand my parent’s tax documents, fill out FAFSA forms and CSS profiles, draft essays and re-draft essays, properly email an admissions officer asking for an alumni interview (and know what questions to ask); and they even aided me in funds to send off my test scores (about $142) and pay application fees (I applied to 12 schools, with application fees ranging from $15-25 per school). If you felt winded reading this paragraph, imagine how I felt living through it!

Now I want you to imagine what this process might be like for students who didn’t have the same opportunities as I did. Many students look to their high school for guidance and resources during the college process. But what if their school doesn’t have adequate resources? Maybe they can get outside help from a college prep program, like I did. But what if they can’t find one, or don’t get accepted? Then their last resort would be parent and family support. But what if their parents and family didn’t go to college? What happens then? I can tell you-- they’d be screwed.


3. My Mom is Always Thrilled to Hear from my College!

My mom is always excited to get a letter from the President or a postcard about events on campus. I can hear the excitement in her voice… even when she recalls a student from the Philanthropy office asking for donations. I think those little things make her feel part of my college journey, even though I’m far away.

My parents didn’t attend college and have never been through the college experience, so when my college provides information to my parents, it almost makes them feel like they get to live that experience. When my college reaches out to my parents, it also acknowledges their hard work and dedication in raising me and getting me there. My mom’s engagement and support really helps me through tough days and reminds me of why I’m attending college in the first place.

My parents do receive information from my school, but the same can’t be said for many parents of college students. My family and others deserve to be well informed of what occurs on campus and in student life, because family involvement matters for most college students--no matter what stage of the process they’re in. The college process is hard, and the only way students can succeed is for everyone---parents, students and institutions--to build and maintain a relationship based on active communication.