First-generation collegian succeeds through Husker supports, determination
Going to college is a big deal for any student — especially when you’re the first in your family to enroll.
Many students rely on parents and siblings to help with the transition to the world of higher education — sharing questions and concerns, tapping into experience to mold decisions and actions.
As a first-generation college student, Nebraska’s Natalia Koval navigated the uncertainties of applications, campus visits and admissions deadlines without the resource of family experience. And, often times, her parents were as confused as she was about the process.
Koval's first language is Ukrainian, so often she was often splitting time at college informational sessions between processing information and translating for her parents. While English speakers, her parents found it difficult to understand university jargon and language used for topics like financial aid.
"Even for native speakers it's hard," Koval said.
Successfully navigating college admission procedures wasn't the lone obstacle course Koval would have to overcome. Once the semester started, the actuarial science and math student grappled with imposter syndrome — chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that can override feelings of success — and the fear of embarrassing herself among classmates more comfortable with the college atmosphere.
Simple things — like the appropriate way to ask questions in class, the concept of office hours and how to best contact professors — were hurdles. And, Koval felt that she was constantly Googling items to understand the acronyms and phrases that can dominate higher education.
She didn't know the appropriate way to ask questions in class, and she felt like she was Googling things every other second just to understand the foreign acronyms and phrases used across higher ed. Concepts like office hours weren't explained to her, and she didn't know the proper way to reach out to professors in that manner.
In addition to figuring things out on her own, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s First Husker program also provided assistance. The program, which brings together first-generation college students into a cohort, builds connections between the students and provides information on campus resources, financial aid details and study skills.
"That's a really helpful thing to have, and without that I'd really be lost," Koval said.
Now in her second year at Nebraska, Koval continues to adjust to college life. As questions about internships and interviews arise, she's figuring out how to navigate the professional world. And, thanks to connections forged through First Husker and her business fraternity, Koval’s collegiate path is better defined.
Koval said the transition to college life was scary, but exciting. While it was a struggle at times, Koval has enjoyed figuring things out for herself and not having to rely on others. Ultimately, she said the experience has helped her grow.
“Being able to break those expectations and start my own thing was really nice,” Koval said.