‘I Won’t Give Up’: How First-Generation Students See College

Julian Rozo, 25
Senior, mechanical engineering major from Bogotá, Colombia

It took Julian almost three years after he finished community college to start at Florida International because he had to work full time.

“I had to help my family with the groceries, mortgage or whatever else we needed,” he said. “It ended up hurting me in the early stages of school. Engineering is such a fast-paced major, and I struggled with studying efficiently. I got to the point where I was on the verge of just giving up.

“Things changed when I was introduced to student loans. It was good for me because I could stop working and still pay for school. Of course, I have to pay that money back, but I know I am making an investment in my future. With engineering, there is a high probability of leaving college with a full-time job. So I looked at it from a business perspective. If I am $20,000 in debt, I can pay that back in two years after graduation with the average salary of an engineer. I was then able to take on school full throttle. I went from having a 2.7 G.P.A. to a 3.4 G.P.A.”


Antonina Shachar, 29
Graduate student, liberal studies major from Miami

Antonina said she wished she had figured out earlier how to better manage her course load.

“I really enjoy learning, so I like immersing myself into school,” she said. “There was one semester when I worked three jobs and took on 20 credits. I ended up getting two incompletes, which turned into F’s. It required time out of school to make up the work, and my free time was spent working. It became too much, and I burned out really bad. I had no one to tell me: ‘Stop. You’re not going about this the right way.’ I would sit in front of the computer for hours, unable to write a sentence. It was as if my brain was paralyzed.

“I realized I was overcommitted, and it was unhealthy. I needed to start cutting things out of my life and putting myself first. It’s pretty hard to do that. I am still not a pro. The first step was communicating. Before, when it was time to submit work, I would disappear. I wouldn’t be open with my professors about what was going on. Now, I am not afraid to ask for help or say no, because there is only so much time in a day.”

This story was published in the New York Times.

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