UC Answers: What’s it like to be a first-gen student?

UC sophomore shares tips for other first-generation college students

Sydney King is a first-generation student studying special education in the University of Cincinnati’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH). An ambassador to her college, King offers advice to other first-generation students — those that are the first in their family to attend college.

Why did you choose UC?

What made me pick UC was the atmosphere. Walking on the campus, I felt "home" — that warm and fuzzy feeling. I could see myself going to class here one day, not just being a visitor. I like being in a city, hearing and seeing different things and meeting new people. Everything is close and convenient. There's always something to get involved in.

What really made me fall in love with UC was the Gen-1 program. I was in the process of graduating from high school my senior year, and I was like, "What do I want to do? Where do I want to go?" The Gen-1 program at UC really saved me and gave me that option to be able to come to college.

What has been your experience as a Gen-1 student?

Being a first-generation student is very challenging, but also very rewarding. I lost both of my parents and neither of them went to college. I was an only child, too. So I was in a situation where no one around me went to college. I had nobody, which was scary. I knew that I wanted to further my education, and I was smart enough to do it. It took courage. But being in the Gen-1 program, you are surrounded by people who are in the same boat as you and can relate to and support you.

Not only is it a program to help guide our way through college, but it's a support system. It's family, it's friends. Coming from someone who lost their family, I came to college and I created my own family.

What UC resources did you find helpful?

[Gen-1 program director] Suzette Combs is the most resourceful person I have ever met at UC. Anything you need, she can help or she knows someone that can.

How did you learn about the Gen-1 program?

I live with my uncle and one of my cousins worked with a student who graduated through the Gen-1 program, Eli Rouse (A&S ’18). I called him up and explained who I was and we talked for about two and a half hours, just about UC, Gen-1. After talking with him, I applied. And if it wasn't for that, I really do not think I would have come to college. I think I would've gone into the military and found a job and went that route.

What advice do you have for other first-generation students?

Take that risk. It's worth it. It's worth the stress. It's worth going through all the different obstacles you have to jump through to go to college.

You aren’t alone. There's plenty of us out here with similar backgrounds. We get it, and we're here to support you.

You have to have confidence in yourself, and you can't be scared to ask for help. I never really asked for help growing up. And I came to college like, "I can do this for myself. I got it." No, it's not the case at all. There's so many resources that UC has to offer. You just have to go to them. They're not going to come to you. You have to take the initiative and once you do, you have so many connections. It opens up so many doors. There are thousands of people that work for this university and everyone does something unique. Use it. You know it's here, you're paying for it, use every bit that you can get out of it. 

I’ve learned that so many things can be taken away from you in life, but your education is something that no one can take from you.

How does UC support first-generation students?

Gen-1 is a community that’s a safe, secure place. And it's not only for the people that are specifically enrolled in the Gen-1 program, what we offer is open to all first-generation students. You're still welcome to get assistance. So many of us are willing to teach and talk with other people that we can help. I think that's pretty amazing.


Featured image at top of student Sydney King. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand

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