First-Gen: A Transfer Student’s View
Friday, Nov 03, 2023

Why settle?” - RCBC President Dr. Michael A. Cioce

Abby Crawley is a communications student who graduated from the Burlington County Institute of Technology and is now a Rowan College at Burlington County Baron. Growing up in a working-class family, Abby’s career goal is to be a social media manager. As an intern in the college’s marketing and communications office, Abby shared her own perspective and that of other first-gen students. November 8 is National First-Generation College Celebration Day.

As a first-gen student, it can be isolating when no one in your immediate circle can relate to what you’re experiencing. Still, through self-motivation, family support and school encouragement, I’ve learned anyone can get through it–and even thrive. In my personal experience, my parents did everything to give me experiences they didn’t get, and it was my job to take that and grow.

Initially, my academic journey started at a four-year college. I lasted a semester before the financial aspect scared me back to New Jersey. Being in debt after seeing my parents work so hard to keep me away from it terrified me. I knew that there was a smarter way to go about completing my degree, and that’s what brought me to RCBC. 

If I could rewind, I would tell my first-generation self to take advantage of the resources available at college. Colleges, especially RCBC, are equipped to help students, many of whom are first-generation and unfamiliar with the college experience, with no idea what path to take to succeed. I was pleasantly surprised to meet an entire staff of people at RCBC who supported me. From admissions to advising and especially financial aid, every staff member I encountered took time to guide me through the process. 

A year and a half later, I am nearly finished with my associate degree. Now, reflecting on what I wish I had known then as a first-generation college student, I realize that many others have had similar experiences. With that in mind, I asked my first-generation peers, “What was one thing you wish you knew as a first-generation student heading into college?”

The main topic was finances. It’s common, especially for first-generation students, while talking or thinking about college to worry about debt and the financial burden it brings. I asked one of my coworkers, Kyle McStay, why he never pursued college; he gave a short and to-the-point response: money. He continued, “I wish I knew how to get FAFSA. That’s why I didn’t go.” 

The fear of debt is a burden many first-generation students carry, coupled with entering a journey unfamiliar to them while navigating applications and all that goes into accessing higher education–alone. Or at least this is what I thought before catching on that colleges, including RCBC, offer one-on-one classes and meetings to help guide new students through the arduous process. 

RCBC psychology student Codi Korhammer shared, “I wish I knew (earlier) what each type of loan meant. Which ones affect me long term, and which loans positively and negatively affect my credit, debt and financial situation.” 

Understanding the details of student loan options hit home for me. I applied for college during my first-period English class! I was 17 and not old enough to get an unrestricted driver’s license, hotel or even rent a car, and I could sign my name and be thousands of dollars in debt from my laptop. At the time, I was clueless, uncertain of what, where, and to whom I had just borrowed money. What was clear to me, though, was that I was on a path to deep debt, and I needed to make a change soon. A couple of months later, while attending my first-choice four-year college, this familiar fear drove me back to New Jersey and RCBC.

The administration and staff at RCBC are involved and willing to help students throughout the process, including the college’s President, Dr. Michael A. Cioce, a first-generation student who shared his journey with me.

Raised in a single-parent household, he recognized that succeeding in the classroom was the only option for reaching his future goals. After high school, Dr. Cioce attended a four-year institution, and after a bleak first semester and a wake-up call from the advising department, he got on track, and got perfect grades the rest of the way. He accomplished this while working part-time, something he acknowledges most first-gen students will recognize. 

Post-graduation, Dr. Cioce went straight into the workforce, which led him on a separate journey resulting in an MBA. By the time he arrived at RCBC, he had earned multiple degrees and many years as a college student–experiences he’s leveraged to benefit students.

“There were stretches of my life where I thought I had to do it on my own, and now, while having this same conversation with my son, I realize that clubs, advising, tutoring, whatever it is, is here for you.” The experiences beyond the classroom developing networking, leadership and other vital skills or seeking assistance from experts and participating in activities are all a part of the college experience. Try something new, and don’t settle. 

Listening to Dr. Cioce, reinforced that I landed in the right place. For me, I’m grateful for another option to complete my degree. I sought help to gain financial literacy, and RCBC staff helped me throughout the transfer process. I’m pleased that my debt burden is now much lower. Student Codi Korhammer emphasized, “... it’s okay to transfer or change majors. It doesn’t make you a failure.” 

When I first arrived on campus, I was overwhelmed and disillusioned. To my relief, my RCBC admissions counselor reassured me, saying, “It’s okay.” I realized that this is the most burdensome part of college, and I gave myself permission and time–one month, to be exact–to adjust to my new program. Dr. Cioce agreed that the first month is usually the hardest for first-gen students. “Wanting to be successful for my mother and setting an example for my younger sister were my reasons I had to get to day 32,” he said.

For the first time in my college process, I have felt peace and in control of my future. The turning point was when someone provided the guidance I was seeking. As a first-generation college student, I appreciate my academic journey with a new perspective, where my classwork and grades are my primary focus. Thank you, RCBC!