The Fear Of College and The First Generation College Student

We can all agree college itself is already a very overwhelming life step. We, as students are expected to start college knowing what career path we are taking, but most of us start college scared, and anxious because of all this stereotypes that define a college student. College professors can have high expectations when it comes to new students. For example, college prerequisites say that you must take a certain amount of units, and sometimes some of this classes could be something we’ve never taken before and professors expect you to come in, sit and know what they are talking about.

Students and professors view college differently, I believe this happens when some students do not have the help outside of school due to being first generation college students and we are expected to know how the system works. College can be overwhelming and lead to failure when students lack from the right support system.

Being a first-year college student can be overwhelming.

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For instance, Melanie in “The Student Fear Factor” by Rebecca Cox explains how she had all the help and support from her parents, she had a college plan and a goal. As a high school student, she wasn’t the one to score the highest, but she was smart, and she was lucky to have a school where you weren’t pressure to get the best grades. Even though Melanie had all the support and felt ready, he couldn’t help feeling scared and anxious that first day of school.

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Coming into a new school, having to park so far away because that is how many students are coming, and realizing that you are alone can be overwhelming. Melanie rushed to the nearest bathroom because she felt sick to her stomach. And sadly, this happens to a lot of students, it doesn’t matter how ready you thought you were, being there is a different feeling. Melanie knew that from that moment every decision she made was all on her, even if she had support at home most of this was going to rely all on her. She also talks about how she was taking only four classes, but she makes a good point, this classes are fast paste, unlike high school. In high school you have a week to revise and learn one chapter, in college you have one class period to revise and learn it. And most students need more time, they need different learning strategies, but professors only offer one and you just have to accept it and make it work.

Fear of failure can lead to lack of motivation, but why is this exactly? Well, just like in Andrew’s essay in “Success by Failure” he explains how he was always the smart one, and he never had to really try that hard to pass his classes. It wasn’t until he had to take his PHD exam that he realized he wasn’t as clever as he thought. Failing made him doubt himself tremendously and he was scared to try again, he was embarrassed, and he wanted to just give up. He had to learn to talk about his failure, and accept that it was okay, h had to learn that not because he failed this one time meant he wasn’t good enough. This fear only made him not want to go back, he was lacking from that motivation he started off with, and this happens to many students. It wasn’t until he realized he needed to develop a growth mindset. Cox says how may college students come into college not knowing what’s going to be thrown at them. And it can be scary, and often students hold back because they don’t want to put themselves out there and fail. Some of us don’t really know what we are capable of until we lose that fear factor and just go for it. Like Andrew and other students have a life outside school, and for this reason, many of us binge write instead of healthy writing. This happens when the are under pressure, and they just need to get it done. This may cause their grades to drop and fail.

Speaking for myself and being a first-generation college student to non-English speaker parents has been very difficult and overwhelming. Parents are usually your main support, but what happens when parents don’t know either what college is all about? Or when you have to send those college applications and you can’t even ask for help. What happens when you have questions about assignments and there is no support at home? We fail, we lose interest to try because there is not a person helping us through this life changing experience. College is where students find themselves and who they will become, but when being alone we often get scared to even try. When I first started college, I didn’t know if this was something I could do, I was scared walk into this unknown world. I didn’t know the language, and I couldn’t ask for help, this caused me to fail and give up like Andrew. I dropped out of college because I was scared to not being able to finish and succeed. This is where I feel students start to stay behind, and eventually give up, when there is not enough guidance, support and encouragement. Professors might also fail to guide these students because they just expect them to know these things. But how do we change a whole system that could potentially be failing to help students succeed? Student success is mostly our responsibility, but teachers and the school also play a big role in our education no mater our age.

Being scared and uncertain of what is happening could affect students’ academic performance. But having a fixed mindset could also be the reason why students might not be able to succeed. Having a fixed mindset can be the cause of why students believe they are only good at certain subjects, but college requires you to take many other classes and this might be where they can struggle. Having this type of mind set makes us not want to ask for help because we believe we know it all, and we can do it all with no help. We believe that things will just come easy and that we don’t need to study more or try harder to maybe score higher on test.

Now, being a college student requires of a lot of dedication and acceptance that we do not know it all, and that its okay to ask for help when needed. I believe that students with a grow mindset are more likely to succeed in school. In Even Geniuses Work Hard, Dweck talks abo the advantages of having this type of mindset. But why is it that students with a grow mindset are more likely to be successful? Well, when students are presented with difficult, and new task they will face them with excitement, and ready to learn something new rather than just shutting down the idea, and possibility that they are capable to lean as much as they desire. Professors should also encourage students and talk more about the possibly to try this type of mindset. By using different language with students can maybe help them realize that its okay to not know something, but in order to master it they must try a little harder. Dweck says “language an go a long way.”

For example, myself, when I was a high school student I had straight A’s and I believe that I knew it all, everything was easy and I did not have to spend time outside the classroom studying, I believe I could enjoy my like for freely. It wasn’t until college that I discovered I had to change this type pf mindset. I faced a lot of things in college, not being able to have full support from my family, and professors only have a very limited amount of office hours for many students. College is a very scary new step, and a lot of us are so afraid to try it that we decided to give up before giving it a chance. So how can we help students get rid of is fear? How do we make college a safe place to learn? And now do we make sure students know that if we fail we can try again and not be ashamed of ourselves? Encourage students to have a growth mindset and push them to try their hardest. People have this believe that we turn 18 years old and we are now considered adults, we now are expected to make a life changing decision and start a life. But I don’t believe that’s how it should be. A young adult shouldn’t be left alone o decide life changing experiences. They still need guidance and support to make sure they become the best version of themselves.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Fear Of College and The First Generation College Student. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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