First generation students tackle college applications

The girl looked down at her college to-do list and the overwhelming feeling started kicking in. It’s so long, where to even begin? Choosing schools, endless essays and, not to mention, financial aid.

Like this girl, all prospective college students have to go through the arduous process of “college admissions.” However, when you’re the first in your family to go to college, it gets even tougher.

One senior, Oskar Jedynak, is a first-generation college student with no siblings to have gone through admissions before him and both he and his parents felt lost in all the paperwork.

“At first, my mom and I were stressing … our only source of information was looking at social media posts of other parents posting questions,” Jedynak said. “I did contact Mrs. Bellito a lot, and she helped a lot, especially with my mom.”

Ms. Rebecca Bellito, the college guidance counselor, works in the College Resource Center, or CRC, to help students with college admissions. She also runs a Google Classroom page for kids who are considered first generation.

However, the definition of ‘first generation’ isn’t as clear as it may seem.

“One main definition is that a student’s parents did not graduate from a two or four-year college, but where it can be a little unclear is if they graduated from anywhere internationally,” Mrs. Bellito said. “It can really depend on the college.”

The Google Classroom group runs off the definition to include those whose parents did graduate from a university outside of the United States, due to the US college admissions process being completely foreign to them.

Riya Verma (12) stands in this middle ground. Though her parents both graduated from a four year university, their schools were overseas.

“In my experience, my parents didn’t really understand how the college admission process worked, so a lot of it was me trying to find out what information I needed,” Verma said.

In trying to find all this, she attended Mrs. Bellito’s weekly meetings for first-generation students, as well as many parent webinars. She also called the admissions officers personally in order to get as much information possible. Although she had to do more than other students, she didn’t mind this extra work.

“I think it was a minor disadvantage, but I got something good out of it because it taught me how to be more resourceful and responsible,” Verma said.

But even those whose parents did graduate from college in the US often struggle with admissions.

“The college application process nowadays is much different, even if the kids’ parents did attend a college in the United States,” Mrs. Bellito said.

This evens the playing field a bit, but another resource that helps to balance things out is a program that VHHS partners with, College Bound Opportunities. The program helps low income, first-generation students in the college application process, along with through the end of college, ensuring these students get the support they need to graduate. Students apply near the end of their sophomore year of high school, and there are generally about eight students from VHHS each year who participate in this program.

Each student has their own unique struggles with college applications and are presented with opportunities that may help ease their stress. While the college application is difficult for all, it hopefully ends with applications submitted and college acceptance letters in the mail.