I remember feeling the mix of nerves and excitement when I first came to Hopkins in Fall 2016. I remember the times when I felt completely lost, navigating an unfamiliar world. Being a first-generation, limited-income(FLI) student, I had to maneuver through an extra dimension of college life. Despite all of this, my early days at Hopkins were a time of immeasurable growth. Here are 10 things I wish I knew when I first got here.
1. Develop meaningful and lasting relationships with your professors.
FLI students are often hesitant to seek help outside the classroom. As an undergraduate, I wish I had been more open to getting to know professors and actively seeking resources. I was so reluctant to go to office hours because I didn’t want to be a “burden” and take up their time.
In reality, they have reserved that time for you and actually want to help and get to know you! Your professors’ office hours are for you, so take advantage of them. Check out this video from current KSAS junior Abigail Flores on the benefits of connecting with faculty and how these relationships can open the right doors.
2. Get involved with the greater FLI community at Hopkins.
Being a FLI student can be lonely. Being first-generation and/or having limitedincome is often something we avoid talking about with our friends. Finding people with the same background as you can be a blessing. Getting involved with the FLI community can help build a much-needed support system. I would recommend starting with the I’m First student organization or join the FLI Network for a chance to meet your FLI peers.
3. Be invested in your professional career from the very beginning.
Coming to college as a FLI student can be a culture shock. Every moment in your life thus far has led to getting accepted to a top university, but now what? FLI students should seek resources to build their professional network early. As an incoming first-year student, I didn’t have professional experience like many of my other peers who had internships in high school. SoI had to find the right resources to learnhow to network and write a persuasive resume. The best resource at your disposal as a student is the Life Design Lab. The staff supports students’ professional growth and can provide guidance on designing the career path you desire.
3. Find a mentor.
Navigating college can be challenging for FLI students, who don’t necessarily have family members who have gone through the higher ed experience to turn to for advice. Mentors can be faculty members, your advisor, older students, or even alumni. When choosing our classes, our extracurricular activities, and finding the right career path, we all need advice. Having people to talk to who went through that process can lift an immense amount of pressure off your shoulders
The university recently launchedthe OneHop alumni platform for students to find a mentor in their field.I would recommend registering for an account there, or reaching out to a Life Design educator to learn how to connect with a potential FLI alumni mentor. You can also consider joining programs like MAPP(Mentoring Assistance Peer Program) or JUMP (Johns Hopkins Underrepresented in Medical Professions), which are specifically designed to help connect underrepresented students to mentors and resources.Alternatively, I urge you to join student organizations that match your interests; they can be amazing resources for connecting with alumni. I was part of the consulting student organizations on campus and was able to connect with alumni to talk about future career paths and career opportunities.
4. There are resources available to you on campus. You just have to find them.
I struggled academically during my first year on campus. What made it worse was that I did not realize there were resources to help me. A common misconception many FLI students have is that there aren’t enough resources to support our success.
It was only at my lowest point – when I was on the verge of failing a class – that I decided to reach out. I got in touch with a mentor, who I met through MAPP. They then helped me find a personal tutor within the MAPP network.Had I not decided to seek help, I would not have had the support I needed to get through my first year. There are many more resources available to FLI students, whether they need help inside the classroom or outside. My top recommendation would be to consider the free tutoring services available through the Office of Academic Support, including Learning Den, PILOT, and Study Consulting.
5. Understand your finances.
It is important to understand exactly what your college costs annually. Often the sticker price of a college education is not what you pay. This fact becomes even more muddled when we add scholarships and financial aid. The Bloomberg gift replaced student loans with scholarships and made our financial aid awards bigger, but there are instances when some students may need to seek additional funding.
To help me remain aware of my educational expenses, I scheduled several meetings with my financial advisor to learn all the intricate details of my educational cost, financial aid package, and available resources to cover any additional expenses. I recommend looking through the financial aid website to find your assigned financial aid advisor and schedule a meeting to discuss your financial aid package.
6. Study abroad is possible, even with limited funds.
I personally didn’t study abroad during my undergraduate experience;looking back, I realize that I shut myself from that opportunity because I was afraid. I thought I would never be able to finance it.That is not true! There are a number of avenues to find funding for FLI students, from scholarships to alumni sponsorships. You just have toplan ahead and be willing to commit. To help you learn more about how some current FLI students were able to get their trips funded, watch this recording about studying abroad as a FLI student which was held by the Office of Study Abroad this fall.
7. Balance is important.
FLI students are frequently asked to do more than their peers. They must often balance school, homework, extracurricular activites, and career searches with working part-time to cover expenses, seeking extra help outside the classroom, and dealing with pressures from home.Given all of that, it is essential to take time away for yourself and practice self-care. To reset and say no.
I found that balance by taking a breath and taking a break. I would always try to keep at least on day, or even one afternoon, in the week to myself.A great way to take a step back is by exploringBaltimore. Walk to Hampden on a weekend or try a new restaurant in Mount Vernon. Get to know the greater Baltimore community. If you have a free Saturday afternoon, go to an acapella show on campus or play in the intramural sports games at the Rec (once we all get back campus and events like these are safe to attend, of course).
You also don’t have to do anything with your free time. It is okay to spend it catching up on your favorite Netflix shows or reading a book.
9. Your relationships at home will change.
College is a time for immense personal growth. You are away from home and are asked to budget every hour of your day. It is natural to grow more distanced from home. This can definitely be a greater challenge for FLI students, who are often more than just “the kids” at home. FLI students were tutors and caretakers of their younger siblings. They worked part-time to help their parents pay the bills. They were often the primary communicator at home if their parents did not speak English well.I know that was the case for me.
However, when I left home to come to college, that role changed. I was too far away to do all those things at home and still be able to concentrate on my new life. That became a point of tension for me in my relationships at home.Feeling that way is ok. It is a part of growing up. You have the right to be selfish when it comes to your education and success.
Coping with this change is challenging. For me, I found talking to my friends, who were also FLI at Hopkins, helpful in making sense of it. Many of them were in the exact same position as me.APlace to Talk(APTT) and theCounseling Centercan also be great resources in this situation. However, talking with fellow FLI students and being in touch with the FLI network worked best for me in navigating this shared experience.
10. You belong.
Imposter syndrome is a very common experience for FLI students. There is a constant feeling of not being good enough, smart enough, or worthy. I wish I learned earlier that I belonged and that I could succeed. It is something that almost everyone struggles with.
The truth is that it will always be a part of life. We have to be comfortable with that feeling and tune it out because we do belong. If you need help learning how to navigate it, I recommend taking a listen to Autumn Williams, a current KSAS junior and FLI student.