Perspective on Being a First Generation College Student and Lawyer

Being a First Generation College Student and Lawyer: A First-Hand Perspective

Today, we welcome back Shirlene Armstrong, guest writer and now rising second-year law student to share her personal reflections on her experience as a first generation college and law student.

From a young age, my parents encouraged my sister and I to work hard and be successful at school. Ever since I can remember I knew that I would eventually go to college and get a degree, no matter what obstacles I had to overcome. With the love and support of my family, I became a first-generation college student.

What does “First Generation” Mean?

First Generation, simply put, is someone who is in the first generation of their family to do something. Thus, first generation college student is a student who is the first in their family to go to college. My parents and their siblings were not able to get a college education. I am the first of my immediate family to not only go to college, but also to receive a degree.

So You Have No Lawyers In Your Family?

I mean, yes. I will become the first lawyer in my family. Actually, I am one of the first few to even have a college degree and the third of my immediate family (grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins) to receive a bachelor’s degree or higher. Even in my extended family, I only have a handful of family members who have their degree. Both of my parents had several brothers and sisters growing up, and their parents had several children of their own as well. My extended family is quite large, in fact. Unfortunately this means that since the family was so large, they were not able to provide support to go away to college and my family members had to enter the workforce right after graduation from high school. Most of my family is older as well and lived in a time in which you did not have to go to college in order to be successful.

What It Is Like To Be The First Law Student/Future Lawyer

Well, I imagine it is similar to someone who is the first of anything in their families. I have wanted to become a lawyer for a very long time, so many of my family members were not surprised when I went off to law school. However, this does not mean they were any less impressed or excited. Above all, my family is proud of my achievements. Also, they are excited to have a person to go to with all their legal problems.

My Reasons For Wanting To Become A Lawyer

Everyone has their own aspirations and reasons. Personally, I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was in the 6th grade. Like I stated earlier, I always knew I would need to do well to go to college. However, that was not an issue for me because I loved learning and going to school. In the 6th grade, at the school I attended, all students must take a Career Cruising aptitude test. When I received my results, I noticed that they were mostly law related. These weren’t the only reasons I wanted to become a lawyer. I have always had a strong sense of right and wrong and grew up as a very honest child. I do not enjoy seeing people being treated unfairly nor do I appreciate others taking advantage of other people. Further, I want to be able to use my specialized knowledge to help people. My friends and family would describe me as a people pleaser; I enjoy helping people out and being useful. I am happy when I can make other’s lives easier. So becoming a lawyer seemed natural to me. These intuitions were confirmed when I took law-related classes in high school and undergraduate. I could not get enough of class. The time would fly by, and I would be left wanting more. Thus, I decided that the path to law school was my future and dream.

Being a First Generation does not Limit me

Overall, I don’t think I would be as successful as I am if not for the love and support from my friends and family. I am not going to dismiss the challenges that first generation law students, such as myself, have. Believe me, there is a learning curve when becoming a law student, a lawyer, and just to become successful. However, I am fortunate enough to have several cheerleaders in my corner. Throughout my first year of law school, I have had my share of difficulties (in life and in law school) but I took on every challenge that life threw at me knowing that my friends and family would continue to help me through it all. Being first generation does not limit me, and it should not limit anyone else. Take on law school and being a lawyer head first and know when to ask for help. Overall, you can do anything you put your mind to if you work hard.


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About Shirlene Armstrong

Shirlene Armstrong is a first-generation student in her last year at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. At Wayne, Shirlene has been involved with numerous organizations and clubs, including mock trial, LexisNexis, the Women's Law Caucus, and the Journal of Law and Society. Shirlene enjoys mentoring others and sharing what she has learned on her legal journey and continues to work hard in accomplishing her dreams.

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