Transfer students. Who are we?
More importantly, how are we doing? It’s a question most people ask apprehensively as they recall the hardships they experienced coming to UC Berkeley straight out of high school. They imagine it must be even harder coming from a dinky community college and into the globally recognized, media-popularized, award-winning campus that is UC Berkeley. From day one, it is engrained in transfer students’ skulls that we are bound to suffer during our transition. The precaution leaves us questioning our abilities and self-worth even before our first day on campus.
I’m new here at UC Berkeley, totally transformed from who I was right out of high school. I never slacked off in school or searched for the easy route. I just wasn’t sold on the idea of the “college experience” of which movies, television, music, college counselors and my peers spoke so fondly. So I enrolled in community college to get a taste of what college was about.
If one word could sum up my community college experience, it would be best described as what the name implies — community. I was inspired by my professors and their open-door policies. I developed close relationships. The students functioned like a team. I started my own organization, which increased my self-expectations. And I was able to really grow up while still living in my town. I met my neighbors, got involved in local conservation coalitions, got a local job and put my two cents in at city council meetings every once in a while. I got a taste of the communicative, community-based style of living I had never known I needed.
At transfer orientation, the “motivational” speakers were seasoned transfers who shared tales about the severe hardships they experienced during their time as an unconventional junior. They said that the first year would be too hard and that it would feel like we didn’t belong or had made the wrong decision.
“We know what you all are thinking, but don’t worry — your application didn’t accidentally get filed in the acceptance pile!” All the depressing warnings pointed in one direction: You’d better find your niche, or you’re going to drown here.
Is this true? I turned to some of my transfer buddies to see what they thought.
“The academic difficulty isn’t as different as many believe it to be,” said junior Idirs Gettani.
“The Berkeley slap got to me at first,” said junior Stephanie Garcia. “They say it’s hard, but you don’t really know how hard it truly is until you get here. Transitioning in general has been difficult.”
“I haven’t had any trouble with the load, although it did take a second to get into gear,” said senior Sharon Golden. “Anyone is capable of doing the work if that’s what they want.”
When I was in high school, we denoted community colleges to be a little something like:
“OMG! i didn’t get into my dream school /:< now i have to go to cc ;-(.” Some SOHBS, or straight-out-of-high-school basic students, may still have this belief. But this stereotypical interpretation of community college turned out to be just that — a stereotype.
When I entered community college, I was shocked to find the bountiful opportunities, connections, collaborations, leadership roles and plain-old fun that were in store. The people I’ve met since coming to UC Berkeley have had similar experiences.
Junior Faviolanny Rath, class of 2017, joined a CC President’s Ambassadors program, where she had access to political events and people long before coming to UC Berkeley.
“It was a well-rounded experience,” she said.
So why do we still twitch when we get shot the old “What grade are you in?” question?
Do we shamelessly blurt out our transfer identity, or do we murmur “third year” and hope our community college past stays a secret for the rest of our college lives?
As I prepared to start my first year at UC Berkeley, social media was filled with warnings about the criticism and bullying I would experience for taking the “untraditional” route. Articles directed at incoming students at UC Berkeley suggested that many SOHBS thought community colleges should not exist.
The consensus of the transfer students I’ve spoken with is that the discrimination has not manifested in direct attacks, but more in subtle jabs.
“I have found that many students think I am not of equal caliber because I am a transfer student. However, I have found that I am more proactive in every group project I have had. I think this is more about how invested I am in my education,” Golden said. “I know where my time at Cal will get me, whereas some of the kids who come straight out of high school, for the most part, don’t.”
Some choose to avoid identifying as a transfer, fearing the stigma is too strong to break, especially when it comes to campus politics. Idris transferred to the campus’s Haas School of Business, where he says it can be difficult to admit to being a transfer.
“A lot of transfers applied to a bunch of consulting clubs, but only one of us actually got a membership. Plenty of us were qualified,” he said. “I think there’s definitely a stigma around joining a club for the first time as a junior.”
I’m more open to identifying with my fellow transfers, mainly because I’m not the type of person who is capable of keeping secrets from potential lifelong buds. I also don’t believe you should allow people define who you are or what you are capable of just by looking at where you’ve come from or your academic transcripts.
“Cal was the reason I changed my life around — my entire perspective on school — and life in general changed,” Garcia said. “Now my goal is to have my MBA by the time I’m 23. If you were to tell the high school me I would be studying at the No. 1 public university in the world, I would’ve said, ‘You’re crazy.’ ”
But for me, going to community college made me who I am today. Leaving that out wouldn’t be doing me or my community college any justice.
More importantly, I’ve met most of my homies through revealing our mutual transfer-ness.
So are we really so different? Maybe you spotted us on the first week. We were those older kids with the wide eyes and Google maps open on our phones. Now transitioning into midterms, however, we meld ourselves in seamlessly.
We are making our way, just as all students do. But we still wonder: How do we destigmatize the nontraditional avenues of education at a school where the force of tradition is so ubiquitous?