Behind the Scenes of First Generation

Growing up, I knew nothing about college. My mom and dad had me soon after they graduated high school. My dad attended trade school and still is a truck driver. My mom has always worked at a company in their customer service department since I was born. Neither of them attended a four-year university. Because of this, I am a first-generation college student.

I knew that I wanted the chance to continue my education after high school at a pretty early stage in my life. Luckily in my hometown, there was an early college high school, and I applied to the program in eighth grade. A lot of people sometimes see early colleges as missing out on the high school experience. I was not the typical student that cared about all of the “normal” high school festivities and did not prioritize that. I wanted to get a head-start on my college journey, and I was able to graduate with an Associate in Science and an Associate of Arts Degree from Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute through Caldwell Early College High School. 

Caldwell Early College High School (CECHS) is set up as a five-year program instead of four. After graduating, I attended Appalachian State University and studied Marketing and Business Management. I was able to graduate with enough credits to transfer to college as a senior, but was still considered a junior due to the amount of classes that I still had to take that were specific to Appalachian State. I started out with an intent to study International Business, but I had to also study a language and did not want that to add more time to my degree, so I decided to double major in Marketing and Business Management because the degrees had the same capstone with different electives. 

Being a first-generation student, in most cases, I did not know what resources I had available to me. Our high school really set us up for success with knowing what to expect in college and how to find resources - so that is exactly what I did. At orientation, I familiarized myself with the different buildings on campus so that I could know what offices existed in which. I made sure to know what transportation App State offered just in case I could not get to my car or if I needed a grocery run and could not afford gas, I could take the buses in town. 

The most important thing was making sure my tuition was handled and paid on time. I was a student that did have to take out loans for school. My dad had to cosign them, but it was up to me every summer to do the math and figure out the least that I could take out to not hurt me in the long run. While I did learn a lot in high school about different options to pay for school, I did not get enough scholarships to cover everything, so I had to figure out alternatives. I knew absolutely nothing about the difference in variable vs fixed interest rates (part of me thinks this is why I studied business, but I could NOT handle finance/accounting) and how long it would take to pay loans back - the WHOLE nine yards. But I educated myself the best I could and made decisions based around that. 

All this to say, I am super thankful to be in the place that I am now. I know the stress that goes into making all of these decisions as a 17 year old and am so grateful that I get to support students in the same way. My parents were supportive of me; they just did not know how exactly to help and what exactly to ask. The students and families that I work with are in the exact same place. A part of me feels like I am giving back to my younger self, but I am thankful that I get to help other students that are also first-generation on their college journeys. 

Baylee Smith, Ashe Adviser
Published: Jan 9, 2023 12:00am