"There Is So Much that Goes into Applying to a University": First-Generation College Students Navigate Unfamiliar Waters

Magazine Issue
Spring 2020
Read Time: 3.5 minutes
Jocelin Meza, Ashley Amiott, and Michael Owens
From left to right: Jocelin Meza, Ashley Amiott, and Michael Owens. Courtesy of Meza and Amiott, respectively, and BYU Photo. 

First-Gen Students Carry the Hopes of Their Families, Stay to Fulfill Their Own Dreams 

Navigating college can be overwhelming for anyone. For first-generation students—those whose parents have no bachelor’s degree—it is even tougher. The McKay School offers support to these students in many ways, including providing a “chill day” during finals week, complete with therapy dogs and snack bags. Here, first-gens—including one faculty member—share perspectives in their own words.

"My mom stopped going [to school] when she was in fifth grade. And after that, she just worked her entire life. My dad graduated from high school and, as soon as he graduated, worked in Mexico for a little bit and then came to the United States. So that was it for them.

I remember going to elementary school and being so confused because I didn’t speak any English. They [my parents] never encouraged me to take the ACT because they had no idea what that entailed or what it meant. Also, I think that was hard when it came to college applications. You think they are just something super easy to fill out, but, in reality, you have to get letters of recommendation, and there is so much that goes into applying to a university." —Jocelin Meza, '20; Elementary Education; Denton, TX

"My parents have always encouraged my brother and me to obtain a higher education at any university. Both of my parents went to college for a semester or so but neither of them got a degree. This is one of the reasons I aspired to attend a university after high school. BYU has been very encouraging of first-gen students. My peer mentor along with my friends who have attended or are currently attending BYU were some of my best resources as a first-gen freshman." —Ashley Amiott, '24; Elementary Education, Fresno, CA

"Although I was strongly encouraged by my parents to attend college, they let me know that if I was going to go, I would need to pay for it. Fortunately, I also had friends who invited me to take the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. In large part, based on earning a National Merit Scholarship, I got noticed and recruited by BYU. Along the way, though, I didn’t quite understand how other facets of college besides my classes were supposed to prepare me for a career. I definitely see the hand of Providence in “falling up” the career path, and I am extremely grateful for kind mentors who saw and encouraged my potential. I hope to help other students who are unsure what to make of themselves in college to find their own upward path." —Michael Owens, associate professor, Educational Leadership and Foundations Department