A College Experience by a First-Gen, FAFSA Student

As a senior here at JMU, I have recently spent some time reflecting on my time as a first generation, FAFSA student. And man, has it been a journey. The purpose of this blog is to share my story in hopes that others can relate or even learn a thing or two.

The first thing I learned as a college student is that college is hard to navigate. Whether it’s picking out classes, buying your books, or figuring out your finances, it will have a learning curve. Although my high school attempted to prepare us for college, it didn’t do a very thorough job. I even took dual enrolled classes in high school to prepare. For anyone who doesn’t know what dual enrolled classes are, they are classes that you can take in high school but they’re given through a college, so you receive college credits. But even my ‘college classes’ that I took while in high school did not prepare me for my actual college experience. The workload was vastly different and I was not aware of the amount of time and effort that would have to be dedicated to these classes compared to my grade school work. I was so blissfully unaware that my first semester at my local community college I attempted to take 5 college courses while working full time. I failed 4 out of 5 them, a hard lesson learned.

However, I think my least favorite part about being new to college is trying to navigate the websites. Between the Canvas pages, your student centers, the online libraries, and don’t even get me started on the FAFSA process. This was by far the most overwhelming part, especially being a first-generation student. None of my family members had even the slightest idea on how to navigate these things. You might think to yourself that there had to have been some classes or instructional videos on these things but I also didn’t know where or how to find those resources at the time because, just due to lack of experience, it was a vicious cycle.

It took me three years of taking classes year round to get my associates degree because I was working full time while doing so and I did it mostly online. My associates degree was a more relaxed and at-my-pace experience, but then it was time to transfer and finish my degree.

Going from my laid back, online schedule to the full time, in person schedule was another drastic shift. Although I was much more prepared this time, I found the classes to be more challenging and time consuming. However, I quickly found that I preferred the in person, university experience over the online options. I picked up on things easier and being able to talk to my classmates and professor in class also helped significantly.

One thing I want to be sure to address in this blog is the amount of opportunities that I found while in college and how they helped me succeed. The biggest component to my success here at JMU is the Centennial Scholarship. This scholarship is available to anyone who is eligible for FAFSA aid. The scholarship’s goal is to help underprivileged students have the opportunity to attend college and greatly assist with their success in their academic career and it has been absolutely vital for my success as a JMU student.

I have mentioned FAFSA multiple times in this blog and for those who might not be familiar with FAFSA, it stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. FAFSA offers government aid to anyone who financially qualifies. This is targeted to low income families and students to provide academic opportunities. EVERYONE needs to at least fill out the application to check their eligibility. It is a lengthy process but so worth it in the end!

Whether you are a freshman or a senior, be sure to utilize all the resources your college offers!

5 thoughts on “A College Experience by a First-Gen, FAFSA Student

  1. I can agree that moving from all online to in person was something I was not prepared for AT ALL!!


  2. Thanks for sharing your journey! I agree that students should use all the resources that are available to help them through the challenging and sometimes confusing process.


  3. Thank you for sharing your story! It was a great read, as I was able to relate to some of it. The last line spoke to me, as it is something my parents try to emphasize as much as they can. I definitely feel like it means more coming from a fellow student.


  4. I could not agree more! College can be scary as is, and with things like canvas and fafsa to navigate, it is extra overwhelming. I think that students should definitely utilize as many provided resources they can.


  5. Thank you for being open and sharing your experience. This is something I truly never thought about and I think it is important to understand everyone’s perspectives. I agree that college can be scary, especially when no one in your family has experienced it.


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