Hailey Ramos (’25 Studio Art major, Graphic Design minor)

November 8 was National First-Generation College Day, honoring the Higher Education Act of 1965 and Chapman University celebrated first-gen students with a week-long list of events, helping to support them through study sessions, letter writing, food, and teaching them about the Promising Futures Program (PFP) at Chapman.

As part of the celebration, the Voice of Wilkinson sat down with Hailey Ramos (’25 Studio Art major, Graphic Design minor) to highlight her Chapman experience as a first-gen student.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), over one-third of college students are first-gen (defined as a student whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree) and those students often face many challenges, such as social, academic, and financial difficulties. About one in three leave college within the first couple of years.

Voice of Wilkinson: What does it mean, to you, to be a first-generation college student?

Hailey Ramos: To be a first-generation student means that I’m breaking the cycle of hardships my family had to go through. It means the world to me that I’m actively making a change for the better and showing my family that we are capable of anything, that nothing is impossible and while I’ll be the first, I won’t be the last college student in my family.

VoW: As a first-gen, do you find challenges that non-first gen students might not identify with?

HR: Definitely, in the beginning of college, I did not know how to navigate it all that well because my family did not know anything about the process of applying or anything with classes. I had to figure out a lot of stuff on my own. Also, there is a sense of “imposter syndrome” that I used to get a lot. I did not feel that I was able to do this on my own without the help of someone else all the time. It felt like everyone knew what they were doing even before entering college. You get this sense of loneliness that probably resonates a lot with other first-gen students because it’s scary being the first to do something.

VoW: How did your parents react to you choosing Chapman?

HR: My mother was scared at first, because she hadn’t even heard of Chapman and something new always terrified us. However, she supported me and was so proud that I was choosing to go here. She knew I would prosper in a smaller, close-knit community of other artists like me. I still remember when I told her I was accepted into Chapman, it was on April 1 of 2021, and she had thought it was an April fools joke!

VoW: Tell me about the high school to college transition for you?

HR: It was a bit difficult, especially because I had finished high school during COVID-19, and it was rough transitioning from school, to online school, then back to in-person school for college. I was burned out at first, so it made the transition even harder, but because my classes at Chapman were small and I was able to talk to my professors more personally, it became easier, faster than I thought it would.

I also want to say to other first-gen students that I’m proud of our numbers growing in institutions like Chapman. It’s inspirational to hear other stories of students whose lives are closely connected through our culture and traditions. I know we’re all going to go far in life and while our families have been proud of us since day one, this is only the beginning! Viva la raza!