Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022
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Success beyond comparison

Success+beyond+comparison
Grace Park

When beginning their academic careers, first-generation students inherit the responsibility of bridging critical knowledge gaps they couldn’t attain from their parents. From basic processes like applying for college, scholarships and internships to being unfamiliar with fundamental skills such as networking and professional etiquette, first-generation students are left to play catch-up in acquiring these skills.

These gaps make navigating competitive classroom environments uniquely damaging to first-generation students’ self-esteem, explaining why first-generation students have a stronger tendency to experience imposter syndrome related to stress than continuing-generation students. 

To deal with these insecurities, we should not hinge on our comparisons to other people. Standardizing success only through measures of GPAs, test scores and cultural capital doesn’t account for nuances in success such as the mistakes and personal development we will inevitably make. 


Our success metric shouldn’t be relative to the journey of our peers from college-educated families. Rather, it should reflect on our improvements and personal developments.

Michelle Shanks, the assistant director of First-Gen Longhorns, shared her perspective on how first-generation students approach the matter.

“(Students) feel like the only way that they can define their success is by the number on each assignment that comes back and how they compare to others in the classroom,” Shanks said. “For most students to get into a really competitive school like UT, they were very aware that grade point average was likely going to have a direct impact on whether or not they were able to get into the college that they want, and I think that mindset is something that follows students into college.”

Students are aware that the way they compare to others determines where they go to college. However, after high school, this perspective should adapt to the nature of how we progress in college.

“Success in college can be best defined as someone who most successfully self-advocates when they need assistance … and (who) are continually working on personal growth and development throughout their time on campus,” Shanks said.

Restructuring our perception of success doesn’t mean we should hold ourselves to a lower standard than our peers or assert that numeric measurements aren’t a valid benchmark of achievement. First-generation students aren’t victims of our identity, but we lack a holistic understanding of success when we prioritize perfection in skills, grades and external comparisons over personal growth and development.

Samantha Álvarez, a first-generation economics and political science sophomore transferring to Yale, shared her experience overcoming imposter syndrome.

“There were so many smart individuals around me all the time, and I always felt …  like I wasn’t worthy of going to UT or a top 40 school,” Álvarez said. 

While these sentiments are natural for any student, what we choose to do about them is our responsibility. 

“It’s not the end of the world if you’re not as smart as someone, and that’s not going to determine your worth,” Álvarez said. “You just have to realize that it’s okay to go at your own pace. … You will eventually get there.”

Shortcomings and imposter syndrome are not unique to first-generation students. Everyone has the potential to fall victim to comparison. But when first-generation students develop their academic and professional skills from scratch, they are bound to make mistakes and experience emotions that other students may not understand. We have to accept that, account for our improvements and keep moving forward. 

Ramirez is a government and international relations & global studies sophomore from Terrell, Texas.

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