A Small Fish in a Big Pond

Junior year of high school, I was informed, was the most crucial one in laying out the roadway towards college. As one who was raised to never even consider not going to college, I was looking forward to engaging in the preparation for higher education.

From an early age, I knew that the public school system from which I received my education wasn’t the best around due to the lack of adequate funds and resources. Applying to college meant the chance to pick exactly what, where, and how I was going to learn. I may have never had a choice in the elementary, middle, or high school that I attended, but this was going to be the opportunity for me to have the ultimate say in my education.

During my junior year, my psychology teacher, Mr. Gagnon, always emphasized how necessary psychological, emotional, and mental preparation was for the transition from high school to college. He would always insist that we will realize that in high school, we are big fish in a small pond. Once we enter college, we will see that we are little fish in a big pond. (However, despite how daunting this may have sound, he never failed to follow the reminder with some words of encouragement.)

I guess I sort of overlooked my status as a first-generation college student. This realization didn’t fully surface in my mind until I actually entered Boston College as a freshman. Looking back at my experience thus far, it has always been hard to translate my inner turmoil into words. Because the issues that I dealt with were so internalized within me, it was difficult to articulate them coherently. Everything I have read about first-generation students while interning at Class Action almost perfectly mirrored my feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

I couldn’t believe how different my high school experience was in comparison to the majority of the student body at BC. From the physical school building, to the educational system, to the demographics of our environments, I started to grasp the reality that I have been positioned at a major disadvantage. While some kids complained about, for example, the imperfections of their pools and track fields, I would think back to the times where my teachers had to pay out of their own pocket in order to make copies of class assignments and how lights would spontaneously burst into small electric fires during the school day. I realized that a lot of my basic academic needs have never even been met, which compromised my college preparation.

One of the first experiences that consolidated the reality of my circumstances was when I took the first exam for my Molecules and Cells class. I was confident going into the exam, because I did very well in my AP Biology class in high school. I walked out of the classroom after completing the exam thinking about how well prepared I was. It was my belief that this one academic experience from high school, if nothing else, has provided me with some kind of academic advantage.

It was when I got my exam grade that I came to terms with how valid Mr. Gagnon’s statement was—I was indeed a small fish in a big pond. The subject I excelled in during high school became the exact subject (and former major) that mercilessly challenged me in college. College became a place where I realized the best of my ability didn’t measure up quite as well in relatively to other students. This was the opposite reality in high school—my best took me to the title of Salutatorian with high honors. My best at BC placed me at mediocrity.

As the semesters went by, I learned not to be dictated by the differences between the other students and myself. I assured myself that whatever I lacked that others were fortunate enough to have, I made up for in terms of what I have been exposed to. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in a diverse environment, where I was not sheltered from witnessing the harsh realities that many only learn about through textbooks in college. I am grateful for the lessons outside of the classrooms of the Worcester Public School system. These lessons were the ones that are unique to me and made me who I am today. And it is something that no one can measure or compete with.

3 Responses

  1. Anne Phillips

    I also went to college intending to be a bio/chem major, as I had aced AP bio, chem and physics in high school. First C I ever got in my life was in bio my first semester of college, and bio was my sweet spot! AP science classes do not prepare you for the incredible amount of work you have to do in college science classes. I found my AP science classes were full of students who could quickly grasp concepts so we could do more hands on fun stuff than the non AP classes. When I got to college I took bio and chem in my first semester. This course load required 30+ hours of homework and studying, no joke! When you’re working 2 jobs AND going to school full time it’s so hard to study that much. I would often fall asleep on the heavy textbooks, highlighter in hand, and wake up in the morning hoping I’d discovered a new form of osmosis 😉

  2. Pingback : Experiences of First-Generation College Students « Franciscan Ruminations

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