HELP ME, HARLAN! First-generation college students can’t handle pressure from parents

Harlan Cohen


Dear Harlan, 

My parents moved to the U.S. when I was 7 years old. They both worked full-time jobs and have given up everything to make sure I succeed. Education is the most important thing to them. Im going to college in a few weeks, and Im excited and nervous. I was able to get a grant and scholarships to pay for it, and its an ultra-competitive top school. Im so afraid of disappointing my parents. They have given up everything for me, and Im scared I will let them down. Its a ton of pressure. They dont want me to do anything other than study. They dont want me to be in any organizations or activities. They were against me living on campus, but all first-year students need to live on campus. How can I manage their expectations? Do you have any advice? 

Too Much Pressure 


Dear Too Much Pressure, 

Find your people on campus first – people you can lean on for help, support and guidance. Worry about your expectations second. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 34 percent of undergraduates were the first in their families to go to college during the 2011-12 academic year. As a first-generation student, you are the most at risk of not graduating. You, more than anyone, need to find your people on campus. You need a support system in place on campus. Reach out to professionals, counselors and staff members who work with first-generation students. Find students who have similar backgrounds. Visit the counseling office. Build a support system. Only then can you begin to manage your parents’ expectations. At the same time, be patient with them; they love you. Connect them to the right people who can help them understand what you need to do to be successful. While they think you need to focus solely on academics, research says that an involved student is a more successful student. Disguise your campus involvement as academic, leadership and service opportunities. If your parents don’t support your decision, listen, love and lean on other people to guide you (and them). Your parents’ expectations belong to them. Your future belongs to you. 


Dear Harlan, 

Ive been on three dates with a guy who doesnt make the first move. I dont want to come off as too aggressive, but I at least want a kiss. Why isnt he kissing me? Whats the best way to make the first move? Can a woman make the first move and still be traditional? Ive never had this happen to me.  



Dear Kissless,  

First kisses (while sober) are really hard (and sober is the only safe way to have a first kiss). It’s hard to kiss a woman you just met three dates ago. No one teaches a man how to ask for that first kiss. There isn’t a class on kissing, and it can be humiliating to get rejected if the other person isn’t interested in kissing. See if he wants to kiss you. Tell him you’ve been thinking about what it would be like to kiss him. Ask him if he’s had the same thought. Then go in for the kiss. If you’re worried about what he will think, let him know what you think. Tell him that you are a woman who goes after what she wants and you hope he can respect that. And really, you’re just asking for a kiss.  


Harlan is author of Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober) (St. Martins Press). Write Harlan at or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 2720 Dundee Road, Suite 226, Northbrook, IL 60062. 

© Harlan Cohen 2017 

Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.

–HELP ME, HARLAN! First-generation college students can’t handle pressure from parents —