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First-generation College Student Finds Path To Success

First-generation college student finds path to success

Growing up, Sarah Rife’s expectations were clear: get married, start a family, and homeschool her children. But rather than follow that predetermined path, Sarah decided to blaze her own trail.

Today, Sarah is studying psychology at OTC. Once she graduates with her associate degree, she plans to transfer to a four-year college or university to earn her bachelor’s degree. Eventually, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in counseling.

Before Sarah became a college student, she was on track to fulfill her family’s expectations. She was engaged to be married with no plans to continue her education beyond high school. It took a broken engagement for Sarah to question the path laid out before her.

“At that moment, I felt like a failure because I wasn’t living up to my family’s expectations,” she recalled. “So I really had to think about what I wanted to do – and in the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to pursue higher education.”

Sarah, one of five siblings, says she and her sister made the bold decision to attend OTC together. In fact, their first steps toward a college degree inspired more Rife siblings to follow suit.

“We all wanted the same thing for ourselves,” she said. “We wanted to change our story.”

While the definitions may vary, Sarah is considered a “first-generation” college student at OTC because neither of her parents have bachelor’s degrees. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, first-generation students often have more barriers to overcome than typical college students. They tend to work longer hours at their jobs and are more likely to have parents who struggle to complete financial aid forms. Oftentimes, they struggle to balance familial responsibilities and school.

But Sarah, an OTC Student Ambassador and Phi Theta Kappa honors student, is a champion for first-generation students like herself, who now represent about 57 percent of OTC’s total student population. Sarah credits her supportive family and friends for her success in college, and she works hard to pay that success forward to other students at OTC.

As a student ambassador, Sarah plays a key role in the college’s recruitment process. She gives campus tours and helps prospective students navigate the admissions process. She says she especially enjoys helping first-generation students take that first step and apply for college.

“I always tell them, ‘Go ahead, do it. Venture out and chase your dreams because they are attainable through a degree,’” she said earnestly.

When it comes to figuring out life’s plan, Sarah is proof there’s no need to stick to the predetermined path.

“It’s just the plan, things change,” she said in a matter-of-fact way. “We all have the power to change our own story. And when we can do that, amazing things can happen.”

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