Navigating college can be challenging for any incoming student. And for first-generation college students (“first-gens”)—individuals who are first among their siblings and parents to pursue postsecondary education—those challenges can be more difficult to overcome. Their experiences, backgrounds, stresses, and obstacles can be unlike those of their peers.

That was the case for Ball State University student Terry Clayton, now a junior majoring in Video Production in the Department of Media and enrolled in the University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

“My biggest challenge as a first-gen student in my freshman year was being on my own and figuring out how to navigate college when I had no one at home who went through it to guide me,” Mr. Clayton said. “Sometimes, I would call my mom and tell her that I don’t know what to do about something involving college, like a homework assignment, and she wouldn’t know. She would’ve helped me if she had these experiences, and I didn’t think any less of her because she couldn’t help me. But I came to realize that when it comes to college, this is all on me. I stepped up. I found resources at Ball State to help me, and I figured it out.”

Ball State aims to support all of its students, including first-generation college students, with a network of resources. To make it easier for first-gens to find information and assistance on a variety of topics, Ball State developed an online resource page dedicated to them.

Figuring Out Academics, Campus Life

These resources—and, for him, ROTC—helped Mr. Clayton find structure and navigate his path toward a successful college experience. One source of assistance for him was the University’s Career Center. Mr. Clayton said staff there helped him develop the ability to prioritize, set a schedule, and stick to it.

“The thing about college is that there was no one telling me how to prioritize my time. Take homework, for example: in high school, you were able to get the homework done in class most of the time. But outside of class, you grow up with parents telling you what you need to do during that time You don’t have that while you are away from home. In college, you have many different things going on throughout the week, sort of competing for your time and attention. That can be overwhelming,” Mr. Clayton explained.

“It was a lot harder beginning college as a first-gen,” he added. “But the good news is that now, I’m able to help the next person in my family when they go to college. I’m the change factor in my household. I have a younger brother. When it comes time for him to consider going to college, I can guide him. My family is proud of me for changing our narrative when it comes to college, and I’m proud of myself.”

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