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Finding Myself Before Leaving Mills| What it’s like to be first-generation and low income at a private institution

AlexinaThere were times in the last four years when I was unsure if I would be able to continue financially at Mills, impatiently awaiting to receive a bill and calculate if I could afford the next semester or not. It always worked out some way or the other in the end, but the uncertainty was always extremely stressful thanks to a few factors.

Now, I want to let it be known that I have had financial aid which helped lessen the burden of tuition. My family has also always been a huge support system in many ways, including financially. They have always offered to send me money and help make tuition payments; I more often than not will gratefully decline. There is nothing wrong with accepting help from your family, especially if they are able to offer it. In fact, there are a few times when I did ask for help. I was also fortunate enough to get a work study position my first year at Mills. I started working at the Office of Admissions and with the money I make from work study, I have been able to help out and pay for tuition on my own as much as possible.

The constant stress of not knowing how to pay for tuition, for many students like myself, is a constant and everyday reality. Especially at an institution like Mills, where the tuition just continues to increase more and more while salaries and bank accounts don’t.

Learning to juggle work and school is a hassle, and I would like to give a shout out to all the people reading this who are juggling school, home responsibilities and work (whether it’s one job or four), and everything else in life, from activism to extracurriculars. The students who have no one else to turn to because their families can’t help at all or won’t, who choose between a week’s meals or a textbook, and who deny themselves the simplest of things, like a coffee, in order to have enough money to finally get the hold off their accounts at the M Center are all truly inspirations for determination, resilience and courage to prove that we belong.

As a first generation college student trying to learn the ropes of higher education, as well as trying to figure out where the tuition payments would be coming from so as not to add an extra worry for my family, having the support of my peers, my work and my family has been extremely important to my education. Thank you to my friends who have taught me tips and tricks on how to save money, about the apps that help me shop cheap, and reminded me that we are all in this together. Thank you to my supervisors at work who have always offered support and flexibility in helping me to balance my job and schoolwork. Thank you to my family, who have always been willing to send me money when I ask or don’t ask.

My situation is not the same as anyone else’s, but I hope that in one way or another people understand that first generation and low income students do have additional responsibilities atop of the “expected” higher education workload.