Keeping my options open

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Being the first person in your family to go to college is an amazing thing, but it also comes with countless challenges. You have to figure out what school you want to go to and how to apply, and that’s all before you face the many difficulties that come with actually attending college.

As I enter my senior year at UC Berkeley, I can’t help but be extremely proud of myself. After all, I never thought I would actually make it here, let alone make it this far once I arrived. But as I near the end of my undergraduate career, I’ve begun to be hounded with the all too familiar, “What are you doing after graduation?” My honest answer? I have no idea. I don’t know if I want to pursue graduate school or go straight into the workforce. In typical fashion, I have decided to simply let future me make the decision between further education and finding a job. But to be able to do so, I must leave my options open, which brings me to my current position: trying to figure out what graduate school programs I might be interested in, what the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is and how the heck to pass it!

I didn’t seriously begin thinking about graduate school until the beginning of this semester when it really hit me that I am graduating in less than a year. As someone whose first love was sports, choosing a desired career path was easy — a job in the sports industry. With that guiding premise, I was able to determine that an MBA in sports management is what I would want to pursue if I were to go the graduate school route. I spent an entire weekend researching graduate schools with such a program and ultimately found three schools that I would actually be interested in attending. This, as it turned out, was the easy part. I then agonized over the GRE for weeks, as one of the three aforementioned schools requires it as part of the application process. I genuinely did not even know this test existed until maybe a month ago — yet another perk of being the first in my family to pursue higher education. I spent countless hours simply trying to figure out the purpose of this test and what it consisted of, to no avail. As you can imagine, I cried — a lot.

We all knew applying for and attending college for undergrad was going to be a challenge, but nobody talks about how freaking hard navigating post-graduate life is, especially for us first-generation, low-income minority students. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more lost than I have these past few weeks trying to learn all these things that students whose parents attended college seem to just know. After shedding a lot of tears and spending too many more hours doing research, I discovered that the test is essentially the SAT’s older brother, and I registered to take it next month. 

Thanks to some blogs and countless YouTubers, I devised a loose plan of attack for studying. Now a few days into studying, I can confidently say this next month is going to be rough. There is so much I need to learn (yet another cause of more tears), but I am choosing to believe in myself. Understandably, this is easier said than done, and I will be stress crying several more times in the weeks to come, but I also know this is the best path for myself. By choosing to endure the struggles of standardized testing and college applications now, I spare my present self from making a decision too early and give my future self the privilege of choice. 

Even though I have done some research into possible programs I would like to go to and am preparing to take the GRE, I still am not entirely sure what graduate school even consists of or how it will differ from my undergraduate experience. This terrifying reality is one that makes me hesitant to pursue further education. But then I look to my family, none of whom have attended college, and I am reminded that despite wanting to do well for myself, everything I do is for them. I want to make them proud and be able to help them live the types of lives never before accessible to us. This is something I think a lot of us first-generation college students, but particularly those from family-oriented cultures can relate to. And though this can at times culminate in an immense amount of pressure, it is also a beautiful source of motivation that allows us to push ourselves and achieve more than we ever thought we could.

So to all my fellow first-generation college students, if there is one thing you take away from this piece, let it be this: It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. It’s hard trying to figure things out when you have no one to turn to for guidance and you deserve to be kind to yourself. In keeping your options open, you’ll see that everything will work itself out, and you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.

Amber Soto is the social media editor. Contact her at [email protected].