Monday, July 31, 2017

Confessions of a First Generation Filipino-American College Student

I’m starting my masters of communication in digital media this fall and tomorrow I register for classes. I’ve come such a long way from where I started undergrad 7 years ago. As I begin this next chapter in my life, I can’t help but reflect on my college journey.
The purpose of this post is to give you a glimpse of my college experience as a first generation Filipino-American.
Whether or not you can relate to this college experience, this post is just to share with you my perspective, my point of view, and my experience.

Like many immigrant families out there
my parents decided to leave the Philippines to give my sister and I better lives in America. “A better life” meant access to an education system and first world quality level of life. 

Though I’m thankful for the college experience, college was probably one of the most difficult periods I overcame in life. Since my dad has a high school degree and my mom received a college degree in the Philippines, my family and I had no idea how to even get to college. 

High School:
My parents had always told me that I was going to go to college. But when I became a senior in high school, my parents and I didn’t know what that actually meant.
My family had no idea what FAFSA was.
My family didn’t go on any college tours (we didn’t know this was even a thing).
My family and I never had the conversation of “fit” – like whether a larger university or smaller university would be a better environment for me.
My family and I were blind sighted when it came to the college process.

I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water with AP classes, planning dances and assemblies, and participating in a sport every season. I was overwhelmed as I figured out the college process by looking around at my friends around me. With the help of my friends, I learned how to use the common app, I wrote essays and asked friends to proof read them for me, and I learned how to fill out the fafsa.

When I finally got to college, I realized my journey had just begun. 
Here are 10 Confessions of a First Generations Filipino American College Student:

1. When finances determine your major…
I realized my senior year of high school that I would have to finance my education through student loans. My family and I didn’t look at the cost of college until I started applying and getting admitted to universities. Since I knew I was going to pull out student loans, I made the decision to ensure I would get a return on the investment of my education. I decided to major in business to ensure I would have a job out of college.

2. $30 a week in groceries
I’ve never been so financially stressed out in my life. I budgeted and survived off $30 a week in groceries every week. I remember freaking out once because I realized I had bought organic strawberries instead of normal ones, and it put me over my budget. My friends thought I was so healthy for meal planning and bringing a lunch to school every day. The truth was that was the only food I could afford in a week. 

3. My Emotional Relationship with the FAFSA
Every year when FAFSA gave out aid, I cried in anticipation, sometimes happiness, but most of the time, in frustration. My junior year, I remember receiving $8,000 in grant money and $2000 in scholarships and having enough to pay for tuition. I only took out a few thousand dollars that year since I saved up all of my Boeing internship money to pay for housing. I bawled because I didn’t have to stress about paying for school that year. Since I didn’t have to work part time, I spent junior year organizing the TEDxUofW conference.

4. Academic Stress
I was a 3.11 average student. I was once asked if it’s because I didn’t try hard enough…I gawked at the question because my 3.11 average GPA was pouring my energy into my studies. I struggled to be the average in business school classes (like accounting and finance) and excelled in my politics and law societies and justice classes.

5. Fear of Rejection
I spent an incredible amount of time putting myself out there and dealing with the fear of rejection. I spent the first two years of college focusing all my efforts of getting into the business school. I almost didn’t apply because I didn’t think I could get in with my GPA. It took my close friends and advisors who encouraged me to just try and apply. I’m thankful for my community, because if I hadn’t tried, I wouldn’t have gotten in.

6. Learning How to Overcome Failure
In addition with dealing my fears, putting myself out there also led me to learn how to overcome failure. I literally tried out three times for the University of Washington Cheer team, made it to finals, and was cut every year. You can read about this experience here.

7. Work Ethic
I worked hard in high school and even harder in college.
I may have had the average GPA in college, but I was determined to make the most of my education. In my four years at UW, I had worked a total of five different jobs, completed four internships, and started blogging. I took pride in running the Victoria’s Secret PINK program and co-organizing TEDxUofW. I was also a part of Alpha Kappa Psi and UW Leaders. One of my best friend’s and roommate in college said there was a fire that ignited in me. And I agree, I was almost frantic as I threw myself into school and extra-curricular activities.

My advice to any incoming freshman or current college students is to ask yourself how to make the most out of this time in your life.

8. The Height of my Imposter Syndrome
Though I’m thankful to develop a strong work ethic, I realize now that the height of my imposter syndrome was in college. I over compensated in my commitments and activities to make up for my insecurities of being in the business school.

You can read about the truth of my imposter syndrome here.

9. Writing Became an Outlet

As I dealt with financial and academic stress, I turned to writing to help deal with storms that would rage in my head. I began to write poetry and journal – especially the height of my stresses. Sometimes I would share some poetry with my mom or with my roommate. But most of my written pieces lived in binders, study notes, and notebooks and was only read by my eyes only.

10. College was completely worth it
Even though college was financially, academically, and emotionally stressful, I would not trade my experience for the world. I learned how to stand up on my own, budget like crazy, and even run a business. College was a space for me to learn how to fail and get back up. It was also a space for me to pursue new interests and continuously challenge myself every quarter.

Most people go to college and expect they’ll get a degree and attend a few parties along the way. I found that along that journey, I also discovered my identity, I learned about other cultures, and realized I had a voice.

I know I would not have the same perspective or be the person I am today if I had not gone to college. I know it was a privilege for me to receive a higher education. I know there many other prospective students out there who wish they could go to college but may not have the resources or support system to do so.

What are some of your college confessions?

Thank you for reading!



  1. I think this is in my top 5 Emma's Edition posts! Love how honesty you were and I think a lot of college freshmen (or attendees in general) will find this helpful!


  2. Waw, this post is amazing. I love how opened up you are.

  3. Everything you talk about here is so important! The college process is so hard to navigate, especially for first gen and immigrant families. And imposter syndrome is so, so real...I never felt it as much as I did when I left my (very immigrant, very Asian-American) hometown and went to a very white, wealthy liberal arts college!

  4. Thank you for sharing your experience! My husband is Mexican and he and his siblings are the first generation born in America. Having a college education was a new idea for them and he and his sister were the first two in the family to pave the way and accomplish a bachelors degree, so I very much understand your struggles!

  5. Really enjoyed reading your experience. I have just started high school and I am exactly the same when it comes to writing being an outlet. Writing is for sure my happy place. Just checked out/followed your instagram. Lovely photos! (mine is @emzynelson )