177: How to Overcome College Guilt as a First-Gen

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According to the Education Advisory Board data, 69% of first-generation college students say the main reason they attend college is to help their families. The problem is, most of these students end up feeling guilty about pursuing a college education. Furthermore, the pressure to succeed is overwhelming, and the idea of just having to finish college is stressful enough, let alone focusing on having a successful career. First-gens can’t falter because somehow, it’s their job to elevate themselves and their family into a bright future. But what’s even more saddening is the fact that first-gen parents often have a hard time “letting go” of their children. Changes in family dynamics can be tough to maneuver. Still, parents need to understand that college is a place of self-discovery and reflection and not necessarily a way out of hardships.

Why Anthony Chose Jackson State University – 08:05

The transition from high school into college is one of the most challenging transitions people go through in their life. For starters, applying for college can be a little bit messy, especially when your friends and family start giving you their two cents about the best schools to enroll. Like most first-gens, Anthony barely knew the type of schools he wanted to join. He settled on Jackson State because that’s where most of his close friends were going.

As a first-gen, following your friends to college is not recommended because of several factors. First, there are hundreds of schools in the country, and what’s right for your friend might not necessarily be a good fit for you. Second, going away to college is the one opportunity to discover who you truly are and what you want to gain from your college experience. So, no matter how much you want to attend the same schools as your best friend, ensure the schools you apply for are a great fit for you and your ambitions. 

Moving to a New State to Pursue Higher Education – 10:17

Anthony already knew that he wanted to pursue higher education and applied to several colleges immediately after graduating. Unfortunately, his first two applications hit the wall, and he had to apply a third time. The good news is that he got accepted. Unfortunately, he had to move to another state again. Still, he wasn’t prepared for the challenging times ahead, and to top it all up, he only had $60 in his pocket. Now, settling in was not a huge task because he already had a job before moving to Michigan. But, surviving with $60 until his first pay cheque was a whole different challenge altogether. 

So, how did Anthony go about maneuvering his new predicament? He explains that building connections are the one thing that kept him moving. Although he didn’t have money for everything, his connections opened doors whenever there were opportunities to be taken. Anthony believes that thriving in every area of expertise demands that you cultivate the ability to develop and maintain relationships.

Fear of Failure and Learning from Mistakes – 15:18

Nobody likes failing. If you think of failure as a threat, as many of us do, you’ll try as much as possible to avoid it. Nevertheless, failing can sometimes be a good thing, as long as you approach it as a learning opportunity. Anthony explains that everyone will fail at some point in time. But how you dust yourself up and keep moving will determine how you recover from the encountered setbacks. So, if you are constantly struggling with the fear of failure, start giving 110% in everything you do. This way, not only will you guarantee that all your work is top-quality, but if things don’t pan out as planned, you can console yourself that you gave your best. Furthermore, guaranteeing high-quality work every time you work on something continuously builds your reputation. 

First-Generation Guilt and How to Deal with it – 17:24

As a first-generation college student, you will experience emotions that range from doubt, culture shock, excitement, and pride. But no one really expects to feel guilty about going to college, especially an out-of-state college. Anthony explains that leaving your family and friends to attend far-off college is far from easy. This is because homesickness and loneliness are often intertwined with guilt. The guilt of leaving your friends, the guilt of succeeding in life, or the guilt of wanting to be better. Anthony believes that sometimes you need to create distance between yourself and the friends and family from back home. Mind you, this has nothing to do with being better than everyone else. It’s all about wanting a better future for yourself. So, the next time you feel guilty about pursuing and reaching your goals, remember that those wins are what will break the cycle of poverty in your community.  

Navigating the Professional Space and going Back to School – 24:30 

If you’ve never thought about joining a sorority, then it’s time you changed your perspectives because you’re missing out. For one, being part of a community helps you navigate and overcome professional barriers once you graduate. Second, whenever opportunities arise in your network, you are always top of mind. 

Going back to get your Ph.D. is one of the most challenging decisions you’ll ever make in your life. Folks from back home will be like, “when are you ever going to finish school and get a normal job like everybody else?” But, if you feel like your academic journey is not over yet, then do you and just go back to school. Earning a Ph.D. will position you in prime positions to land jobs that require a Ph.D.  

Anthony Webster, raised in Greenville, MS, looked to education to escape the bondages of growing up in the Mississippi Delta. He currently serves as the Career and Technical Student Success Specialist at Washtenaw Community College. 

As a first-generation college student, Anthony enjoys helping students navigate their college experience through innovative programs, intentional outreach, and establishing relationships. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Jackson State University (2010) and a master’s degree in Higher Education at Eastern Michigan University (2012). He is a first-year Ph.D. student pursuing his Educational Leadership & Policy Studies degree at Wayne State University (2023). 
Anthony says, “in the end, I don’t want to be viewed as the greatest or even the best, but I do want people to say that I was an effective leader in all that I did.” Connect with Anthony Webster on LinkedIn.