Time is a freshman construct

Community-less College

Neil McClintick

Two years — that’s the magic number. It’s roughly how long I spent killing dragon functions to hit the then-maximum level of 70 in World of Warcraft. In the same length of time, I learned the absolute basics of the Korean language. Two years of on-the-road practice ensured that I can now drive through Berkeley’s pedestrian-littered one-ways, without the streets running red with the blood of mischievous bikers. Evidently, I know I’m capable of doing a lot in two years. But graduating from UC Berkeley in two years, while somehow distinguishing myself in this campus’s rancorous one-up culture, is one especially tall order.

As a transfer, the number “two” quickly claims a chokehold over all Golden Bear endeavors, acting as a ubiquitous barrier to UC Berkeley’s lustrous trove of opportunity. Scholarships, internships, leadership positions, accessibility of class options, double majoring, minoring, studying abroad — you name it. The forced time constraints of only having two years not only creates barriers to entry for getting into virtually any position, but also creates a de-facto “transfer ceiling,” by which the height of your success is eventually capped.

From the get-go, you’re stumbling on a maxed-out treadmill revolving irrespective of your own needs and pace. Deadlines for scholarships, programs and student organizations — including the Daily Cal — pop up before you even have time to explore your options. Unlike freshmen,  who have sufficient time to familiarize themselves, a missed opportunity or two rarely means having to take an extra semester or academic year.

Speaking from personal experience, I hit a wall just this past week when applying for a junior summer program. This opportunity, like many others, required letters of recommendation from UC Berkeley faculty — an unreasonable expectation considering I’ve only had a couple of months to make those connections.

Even concerning basic necessities, such as housing, the constraints of time rears its unapologetic head. The fact that transfers are admitted a month later than freshmen, coupled with a lack of guaranteed transfer housing, ensures that hundreds will scramble for $800 doubles off of campus last minute. In my case, I briefly couch-surfed for the first week, after more than five failed attempts at securing housing.

This campus is so oblivious toward the timeline of incoming community college students that it actually expects them to be able to travel backward in time.

Case in point — the annual April Cal Day. This special palooza serves as an early Christmas — a filet mignon-quality spectacle for the thousands of new admits, enriched by shopping bags full of apparel, numerous info sessions and Sather Gate photos for the ‘gram’ — all a part of a greater welcoming scheme to make you feel wanted and consequently SIR. Here’s the big problem: It takes place a week before you even receive your admission letter as a transfer.

Hosting Cal Day events titled “Summer Edge programs for newly admitted freshmen and transfer students” or “transferring to Cal” is no doubt a cruel joke when most community college applicants are still in the hellish limbo of refreshing their portal as often as their Facebook pages.

To resolve these mismatched timelines, UC Berkeley hosts a later-dated Transfer Day. But outreach is so lackluster that others and I didn’t even know it happened. ASUC Senator and transfer student Carmel Gutherz informally described how Transfer Day is more or less Cal Day’s ugly step sister: “The chancellor didn’t even bother to show up during my year. There was a dance group and a couple of speakers who made us shout ‘Go Bears.’ A small resource fair as well. And that was about it,” she said.

I have a leg up, starting off with roughly 20 more semester units than most transfers because of AP scores. But inevitably, I’ll hear that one unintentionally biting sentence from a four-year student that warrants “sad reacts only” from all transfer students — “I already did that during my freshman year!”

This pithy statement harshly reminds transfers that — for them — time is the only resource scarcer than money. Far more than a tirade against sharing the same runway as freshmen, the consequences of the time-gap are extraordinary and self-perpetuating. Without the luxury of having years to stockpile social circles and name recognition, the process of résumé-building and landing in campus leadership positions requires squeezing through a mouse hole.

The leadership of some of the largest student-run organizations illustrate this point: Currently, three out of the 20 ASUC senators are transfers — this small number is actually a step up from past terms, which often feature zero transfer representatives. At the Daily Cal, none of the Senior Editors Board members are transfers.

Time abatement ultimately leads many transfers to take an additional semester or third year, but most will still pursue the far more streamlined two years, consequently giving up many opportunities. For myself, each day here at UC Berkeley is a sobering reminder that two years will never be enough to take full advantage of the school’s infinite repository. Still, I’ll retain the hopeful conjecture that I can somehow leave a lasting mark with the finite time I’ve been given, because, as Einstein once said, “I’d rather be an optimist and a fool than a pessimist and right.”

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  • Aaron O’Shaghennesy

    I never feel more depressed about wanting to transfer than after having read one of your columns. Excellent writing as always.