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On being the first in your family to go to university

In 2017, it was estimated that half of students starting university in 2018 would be of the first generation in their family to do so, and I was among them.

With so many young people now becoming the first in their families to take steps into higher education, the reasons that we are choosing these new paths have become huge talking points nationally in the UK. But, given that the numbers of first-generation students is now so high, I wanted to talk a little about the support available to students in this position like myself, as well speaking a little about what this experience is like first-hand as a now second year student.

During the university applications process, little information was given to us about tuition fees or loans or the very real issues of affording university. Whether this is because the other students at the 6th form college I attended were in a different economic situation to me (so funding wasn’t as much of a worry for them) or because it was taken as an expectation that those applying were already aware of the funding options available. Either way, myself and the handful of other would be first-generation students I talked to found ourselves left with the worry that our progress into higher education would be immediately cut off by issues with funding. Coming from a home where money is tight, the idea of debt, travel, housing and living costs is daunting and can easily make university seem inaccessible before you even start.

And this isn’t an uncommon thing. So many students, whether they’re the first in their family to attend or not, don’t know what help might be available to them because it isn’t made clear to them. However, this is an issue that seems to particularly effect students from families with no previous students. Depending on a range of factors, from household income to what course you have chosen to study, there are different loans and bursaries available to you – such as NHS or teaching bursaries or low income family allowances. If you’re struggling with funding while studying at Lincoln, the student support services can help you find out what you’re entitled to and with the applications to get the help you need.

As well as worries about money, one of my biggest worries was that I didn’t really have another person I knew who knew what university was like and what I should expect. When you don’t have members of your family who went down the same path as you, you can feel without a role model, or can feel either pressured away from university by your family as they may not understand the value in it or pressured to achieve only the absolute best as you’re the first to take these steps. Equally, getting help with university applications from family who don’t really understand the process or what levels of experience and commitment will be expected of you can be frustrating.

However, there can be a freedom in this; if you’re the first to move into higher education, you get to set your own precedent. University study is a huge opportunity and getting a place at university should be a thing of pride, getting into university isn’t easy. As more and more first generation students take their places at university, the stigmas that might have been attached to us are breaking down, and even if you don’t have people who understand where you now are in your family you likely will in your new friends and course mates.

Find what you need to let you enjoy university to the fullest, ask until you find, and set your own standard.