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College Essay Tips for First-Gen Students

tl;dr: Writing a first-gen student essay can be a daunting task, but it's an amazing opportunity to showcase your personality and be the host of your own immersive world. Start by choosing a challenge you have faced as a first-gen student and then outline why it was significant, what you learned, and how others can learn from it. Make sure to captivate your audience with a strong introduction, add immersive descriptions, and talk about your future in the conclusion. Don't forget to ask for help from teachers and peers to edit your essay for grammar and feedback!

What is a First-Generation Student?

A first-generation student is someone who is the first generation in their family to attend a 4-year college or university. This can encompass many different types of students from diverse backgrounds.  While some of these students' families may have been living in the United States for a long time, others may have been born in the U.S. to immigrant parents 👪 or a naturalized American citizen.

For more information about first-gen students, check out this article from CollegeVine!

What is a First-Gen Student Essay?

A first-generation student essay is different from a regular college essay because the reader wants to hear about the struggles you experience as a first-gen student. First-gen essays are mostly found in scholarship prompts but can be used as your personal essay on the Common or Coalition Application. Being that these prompts are found in scholarships, not all first-gens are required to write them! The prompts tend to follow the guideline of “describe a challenge you have faced as a result of being a first-gen student.” First-gen essays allow you to describe the aspects of your life that have been challenged due to being a first-gen and how those obstacles strengthened 💪 your spirit; in this essay, you have the chance to highlight your culture first hand.

Although these are not first-gen student essays, reading these sample essays can help you understand essay structure and brainstorm essay topics!

How to Structure Your First-Gen Student Essay

Most of the time, first-gen essays are found in scholarship prompts, meaning that other students might face the same struggles as you. What’s important to remember 💭is how you flourished despite those struggles or moments, how the lessons learned have altered your future, and how you can use your growth to benefit others. This essay is more than an “essay”; it's an opportunity to exhibit your personality and be the host of your own immersive world the reader will want to come back to. It’s your moment to pull a Gatsby, throw an elaborate party to win the heart of Daisy–even if you die at the end 👀, at least the party holds your memory.  

The first step in developing your essay is choosing your tribulation or a moment of struggle in your life that has stayed with you. In an outline 📝, describe why this event was significant, what you learned, how others can learn from this, and how you might have approached the situation differently. These questions will get you thinking, and hopefully, you can produce at least five solid ideas. From those thoughts, you can cross some moments out.

During this process, it is essential to remember 🧠 that every moment you experienced has value. Crossing out a moment on a list doesn’t mean it’s being crossed out of your life; these moments have made you strong and better prepared for your future. You know you have chosen the right moment when you can write a “novel long” 📖 description of it; however, if the key lesson you learned is omitted from your “novel,” try again.

Now that you have a topic, it is time to captivate the reader. Just like in every English class, you need a strong opening statement! Your essay can be well written but a waste if there’s no eye-catching, breath-holding, heart-racing 😯 intro. This is probably the most important and equally tricky aspect of your essay, so you should designate a decent amount of time and attention to your introduction. You might not get it on the first try, but it’s ok! That is why the delete ❎ key exists.

Once you have your intro, it's time for your essay’s body, meat, and party. Your reader is your guest and if you don’t have the “perfect” theme, guests, food, music, party favors, they’re going to leave unsatisfied eventually. Although you might have all these party 🎉 plans in your head, they aren’t executed in the “real world” until you make it real! In this step, you describe your story, add immersive descriptions, make the reader feel as though they are living your struggles–the highs and the lows included. Don’t leave them wanting a cake slice 🍰. Although this is your opportunity to write a “sob story,” remember that what will make you stand out is the growth you have learned, achieved, and will continue to follow. How did your growth benefit you, your community, your future? Although you are creating a “perfect” party, you still want the reader to come back to celebrate 🙌 with you again.

As with all parties, your essay must come to an end, so make sure the guests are leaving satisfied! To close off your essay, talk about your future. Don’t stray from the lessons and personal growth 🌱 you have achieved. Talk about how you will follow through and use what you learned to uplift and inspire others. You’re the host of the party, and you always want your guests to leave on a positive note.

Tips to Remember

Continuing with the party analogy, although other people might host the same party, it’s imperative to put your own 💃 spin on it. You and another host might have the same theme, but what do you have that they don’t? These essays allow you to show off your personality and your challenges in a manner of different ways.

Being a first-gen student myself, I understand the difficulty in opening up and revealing your tribulations, pain, and vulnerability. However, readers are eager to read about your life–writing a first-gen essay allows you to present a personal glimpse of who you are 🤩.

It’s important to understand that good writing is not only about grammar; many first-gen students learned English as their second language. What's important is the effectiveness in delivering your ideas clearly and being able to communicate 🗣 effectively. After you write your essay, ask a teacher or a peer to edit your essay in order to better your grammar or receive comments that better strengthen your essay.

During this entire writing process, don't listen to the pessimistic voice 🙊 in your head, no matter how persistent it may be. That voice inside you roots from the unnecessary burden of centuries before you. This process might make you question your life, value, or identity, but what matters is that after every struggle you've marched on with your pride intact and spirits high, shaping who you are today. This may be a stressful moment, but you owe it to yourself to step back and relax 🧘. After all, the best parties always have a host that is enjoying themselves as well. Happy writing!  

For more tips about college essay writing, watch this video!

Next, check out these great TikToks and tweets for advice about the college application process!

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