As a first-generation Latina raised in a low-income, single-parent home, all I ever wanted was to leave my hometown and explore the world after graduating from high school.
I was also painfully aware that this would not be my reality. Now, four years later, as I get ready to graduate from California State University, Sacramento, I realize that it was a privilege to live at home as a college student.
When graduating from high school in 2019, I remember feeling envious of the plans my classmates were making to explore where they would be living for the next four or so years. I also remember feeling like less of an “adult” because I would not be carrying the same responsibilities or experiencing the same freedoms that they would.
In spite of these feelings, I knew that the reality of leaving Sacramento would come with many struggles that I was not ready to face, prime among them: money.
I grew up with many struggles. I knew how it felt to see my mother worry about whether we would have enough food on the table or where we’d live if we ever lost the place we were renting.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had just barely gotten to experience the privilege of a stable, permanent home — my mother purchased a house during my junior year. So it pained me to know I would be entering that instability again if I left home for college.
Yes, there are ways to manage — such as scholarships, loans, financial aid — but even with that, I knew I would have to work so much harder to pay for housing and food. Leaving home wouldn’t be impossible, but was it worth it for me?
Along with tuition, the cost of living has been increasing, making it more difficult for students to buy food. About 50% of community college students, 42% of Cal State students and 44% of UC students suffer from food insecurity.
If I stayed home, I would have financial support; and as much as I envied my classmates and their newfound freedom, what I really needed to succeed in college was less worry about finances.
Anxiety also has been a struggle in my life. In high school, I never thought it was bad, but when I got to college, my battle with anxiety was something I couldn’t ignore anymore. (I’m not alone in this; during the 2020–21 school year, more than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem,” according to a study cited by the American Psychological Association.)
Being home allowed me to find the support I needed when my anxiety was at its worst. My family helped me find a therapist and, honestly, I am not sure I would have passed any of my classes without that help when the pandemic hit in spring 2020.
As I’ve become more comfortable with my choice to stay home for college, I’ve wondered more about what I’ve missed. According to a blog post that resonated with me, there are seven reasons to go away for college: independence, respect, a new skill of resourcefulness, a new appreciation for your home, a fresh start, the skill of traveling, the opportunity to escape your comfort zone and the ability to broaden your perspective.
Some may believe that these seven benefits only happen by going away to college, but I don’t. I have acquired each of these skills on my own.
I had the opportunity to study abroad for a week in Ireland for a service learning class in my honors program, which is something I would never have been able to save up for if I lived on my own. Through this experience alone, I gained independence, adopted a broadened perspective, found a new appreciation for home, became resourceful, and gained skill as well as a love for traveling.
And internships, part-time jobs, and clubs have given me the opportunity to escape my comfort zone, socialize and fulfill other personal goals.
I am not saying it is easy for an adult to live in their parents’ home; everything has its challenges. Parents will have a hard time treating their children like adults, and sometimes boundaries are crossed, but it’s not impossible to work through this.
The point of all this isn’t to convince students to stay home and not go to the college of their dreams. And if students are leaving behind a home that doesn’t feel safe, then maybe their best option is to go to a college far away.
Regardless of whether students stay or leave for college, they should never be hard on themselves for making what they think is the best decision at that time.
If that means living in a safe and loving home with their parents as they work to get their degree, then they can consider it a privilege that not all people have.
Emmely Ramirez is in her fourth year at California State University, Sacramento as a journalism major and English minor. She is also a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.
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Amit 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago
Such a great article!
David Torres 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago
Thank you for sharing this insightful article. As a Mexican-American (that's what we called ourselves back then) first-generation college student, I lived "at-home" with my parents through graduate school, so I can appreciate all the challenges you enumerated. As a young person, I would've probably read your article with the perspective that you are trying to put the best face on this situation. As a college dean on the verge of … Read More
Thank you for sharing this insightful article. As a Mexican-American (that’s what we called ourselves back then) first-generation college student, I lived “at-home” with my parents through graduate school, so I can appreciate all the challenges you enumerated. As a young person, I would’ve probably read your article with the perspective that you are trying to put the best face on this situation. As a college dean on the verge of retirement, I read your words as wise, and your advice is hard-won.
I hope other young people in marginalized groups can gain comfort and validation from your excellent article.
Rosa 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago
Emmely, thank you so much for sharing this! I had so many emotions reading this and its given me a lot of food for thought around the expectations we as a society have about 'going away to college'. Like you, I was a first gen Latina experiencing college alone. I also lived at home because that felt like the financially sound thing to do. For a long time I regretted that decision, but as I … Read More
Emmely, thank you so much for sharing this!
I had so many emotions reading this and its given me a lot of food for thought around the expectations we as a society have about ‘going away to college’. Like you, I was a first gen Latina experiencing college alone. I also lived at home because that felt like the financially sound thing to do. For a long time I regretted that decision, but as I have gotten older I understand it really was the best decision (for so many reasons!) that in many ways lended itself to many other great opportunities.
I love the part where you mention the blog post and say, “Some may believe that these seven benefits only happen by going away to college, but I don’t. I have acquired each of these skills on my own.” Im with you 100%! What has to be considered is that being a first gen college student itself already makes you a rockstar and navigating family dynamics and responsibilities while being a first gen makes you invincible.
Wonderful reflections! 🙂