TORRANCE, Calif. - College hasn’t been an easy experience for Alexandra Manalang to navigate.

“I had to go to workshops and a lot of counseling appointments and I had to ask my dad, ‘how do you register for classes?’” Manalang said.

Manalang is part of the estimated 50 percent of El Camino College’s student body that is considered to be first generation college students -- students whose parents did not achieve a higher education after high school.

During the school year, Manalang relies on the support of her counselors to help guide her on her path to transferring to a four-year college.

“The process for transferring is really hard. The applications are really rigorous. I applied to U.C.’s and Cal States and any time I asked my parents, 'what am I doing can you check this?' They didn’t really know what they were doing, so I couldn’t really turn to them,” Manalang said.

It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of California community college students are considered to be the first generation in their family to pursue a college education. Seranda Bray is a counselor at El Camino College. She says as a first-gen student herself, she saw first-hand how difficult the process can be.

“There’s a term that we use called the 'hidden curriculum.' So, things that first students whose parents went to college they know, 'OK, this is how you fill out the FAFSA,' or 'this is how many hours you need to study for your classes,' or 'this is what you need to do next. You should be networking or you should be doing these things.' So, for first-gen students, they are really figuring everything out and teaching their family at the same time,” Bray said.

That’s why Bray helped spearhead the First Gen Initiative on campus that provides students a network of professors, counselors and events to help students stay on track. After two years of putting the initiative in place, El Camino College earned the title of a First Forward Institution from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators for helping to bridge the gap for students like Manalang.

“She helped me realize that life isn’t a straight line and so I had to accept that,” Manalang said.

After working with Bray and the program, Manalang will be transferring as a business major to California State University of Fullerton, where she said, she’ll be determined to become the first person in her family to hold a bachelor’s degree.