Overcoming obstacles as a first-gen student

Shelby Morrison
Shelby Morrison

First-generation college students – those who are first in their family to go to college – face many hurdles in their quest for a higher education.

For Shelby Morrison, the biggest struggle was the financial burden.

“I’ve had to pay for college solely on my own, so I’ve taken out quite a bit of student loans for my degree,” said Morrison, a senior from Wood River, Illinois. “It hasn’t been easy, but it means making a better life for my family and myself, and making them proud.”

Morrison is pursuing a major in health communication, one of the newer programs at Missouri State University. This degree gives her the ability to work in the health care field and interact directly with physicians.

“My mentors and professors helped me to find the health communication major, and I ended up falling in love with it,” said Morrison. “I love the fact that I will be able to help people through health care.”

Challenges of being first-generation

Besides cost, another obstacle Morrison faced when she chose to go to college was not having anyone at home to help her plan for it. She had to discover many of the processes on her own.

“It was difficult getting prepared for college as my parents weren’t sure how to help me. It was quite an experience learning how to fill out a FAFSA, apply to college and get everything ready for the move,” said Morrison. “That was definitely challenging.”

But she never gave up because she always wanted a college education.

“I’ve never thought that college was a ‘question’ for me. I’ve always known I wanted to go,” said Morrison. “I want to make a good life for myself and my future family. My high school English teacher was the biggest inspiration to further my education. She helped me to believe I was totally capable of getting a college education.”

First-gen student at graduation

Advice from a soon-to-be alumna

Morrison had to find her own way and do the research on her own to succeed, but she does not want that to be the case for future first-generation college students. She seeks to inspire and help them.

Morrison is co-founder and current president of MSU: I’m First. Started in August 2015, the organization helps to ensure the success of first-generation students on campus. It provides resources such as faculty mentors and financial aid and scholarship workshops.

“My advice to future first-generation students is to definitely do your research. It’s always better to know too much than to not know about a form, deadline or event that could be very beneficial to you,” said Morrison, who will graduate this August. “Don’t be scared. This is a huge, brave step in your life and it will be worth it, even on the tough days.”

Despite having to overcome many different challenges compared to her peers, Morrison’s upbeat attitude has helped her achieve success. Her words of encouragement to any first-generation student is, “Never lose hope and always think positive!”

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