I didn’t have a single dime saved to pursue my postsecondary education when I graduated from high school.

As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know how to prepare or what to expect, and my first year in school was rough. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the transition of living away from home. I felt lost at times. I felt like an imposter, and often thought I didn’t deserve to be in college.

But as I found my footing, I realized I loved higher education and it has truly shaped who I am today.

I immersed myself in every leadership opportunity possible at Oakland University and took advantage of all of the conferences, research and networking OU had to offer. I connected with staff who were integral in my process of finding my voice and leading me to where I am today. I loved my experience so much, I went back for my Master’s Degree in Higher Educational Leadership, and plan to get my Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.

I have a passion for education.

Which is why, when I heard of a program called AdviseMI focused on serving “traditionally underserved students” – students like me, who were first-generation, or low income or students of color – I knew it was the perfect fit.

Every day I advise high school students on how to get to, pay for and stay in college. I help them explore postsecondary education and the options available to them. I help them navigate applications and FAFSA and deadlines and decisions.

But most of all, I help them see their potential.

I will never forget the student who walked into my classroom on one of the first days of school and introduced himself. I was so nervous students wouldn’t come see me – that they wouldn’t understand what a college adviser was, they wouldn’t know my role is to support their academic advisers and teachers and specialize in guiding them through the college application process.

But this student – he got it. We met regularly, and he often brought friends in to explore their options. Yet over and over, he told me no college would ever take him. That he wasn’t worthy of going to school. Despite the constant smile on his face, he struggled academically and he believed he wasn’t smart enough for college classes.

It broke my heart, because that was the exact opposite of what I saw sitting in front of me. I pushed him to fill out applications. We set goals to raise his GPA, and he exceeded those goals. I have never seen so much dedication and determination.

He ended up being accepted into his first-choice school, and recently let me know how much he loves his classes.

On day one as a college adviser, I put “You are college material… never doubt that” on my wall in big letters. Many of the students who tell me they aren’t college material have internalized failures that are rarely their fault and are complex and deep. They truly believe they don’t deserve to go to college.

As an AdviseMI adviser, I help my students navigate the process of getting to college, yes. But my real job is to tell them they are college material if they believe they are. It’s to tell them I believe they are college material and they deserve any postsecondary education they want.

My job is to be there alongside them as they navigate the process of finding the perfect school match and fit, and making sure they know I will do whatever it takes to get them where they want to be.

Because I understand what it’s like to think you don’t deserve college. And because I know firsthand the power of moving past that falsehood and finding your future – and self – on campus and beyond.

Brittany Hall is a second-year adviser who serves at Clintondale High School. She returned to Macomb County to help students pursue postsecondary education. Brittany is a first-generation college student. November 8th is First Generation College Student Celebration organized by the Center for First-Generation Student Success and celebrated by MCAN.