Welcome, Berkeley transfers!
Welcome to one of the most difficult yet glorious times of your life. Most of your CalSO experience will be a good-natured, good time, but if you’re like me, you’ll chafe just a tiny bit at the fact that this day seems tailor-made for freshmen and not necessarily for transfers. You may not see it right away, but we have to try to get as much out of this experience in two years as some people do in four.
You’ve already beaten incredible odds. Only one in five community college students transfer to a four-year university. Of those who applied to UC Berkeley, only 24 percent were accepted. You are the top one-fourth of the top one-fifth of everybody who started where you started. Let that number sink in. You made it here, and you belong.
There will be a period of adjustment. Cal has some of the same features, offices and places that your old school did, but the names and acronyms have changed. Registration is still a stressful and harried process, but now it’s also a confusing and faulty one thanks to Tele-BEARS.
This campus is bigger than the town I grew up in. It’s easy to get lost or forget how long it takes to get from one end of it to the other. “Berkeley time” gives you an extra 10 minutes to make it to class. You’ll get used to that, and then you’ll get a little too comfortable. After a semester, you’ll find your equilibrium, and you’ll feel as comfortable as anyone who started here as a freshman.
Of course, the process of adjustment can be easier for some and harder for others. Find the Transfer, Re-entry, and Student Parent Center. Some transfers don’t get much use out of it — I certainly haven’t. Nevertheless, know that it’s there offering information and services you might not otherwise know about. It exists specifically for you. Seek out the things that interest you. Don’t let your timeline scare you. Two years is enough time to join a club, sing on Sproul, study abroad, apply to the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, enter contests and find some community.
This school is too big and too full of people to take it all in. There are smaller segments of the population with whom you can share one or two things to make it all manageable and friendly. Too many transfers decide that cool activities are for the kids and spend their college lives in quiet library desperation. Get your money’s — or the government’s money’s — worth. Have the whole undergraduate experience. Pledge something. Pierce something. Protest something. Berkeley offers too much to miss it all sitting in the stacks. Otherwise, you might as well have gone anywhere.
Chances are, your community college prepared you for the rigor of the work you’ll be expected to do here. Even so, expect to stretch a little. When I transferred in, I realized my best, most praised, prize-winning work at my old school was worth a measly A- here at Cal. The pace is deceptively slow in a lot of lecture classes, but it’s easy to get lost in the expectation of depth. The amount of work required will probably not shock you — but the quality might. Be ready to ask for help.
Connect with people in your classes. Read one another’s essays. Visit the Student Learning Center for a qualified tutor to look over your work to give you some pointers. Your professors have no idea who you are. In a sea of faces, they might know yours if it’s very distinctive or you speak up often. Go to office hours so that they know you. Talk about your ideas from lecture. Ask them questions. It’s ridiculously intimidating — every time I do it, I shake like the Cowardly Lion approaching the great and powerful Oz, but the proof behind the curtain has always turned out to be a thoughtful human being who does not point and laugh at my ideas. Trust me on this one. Just go.
You will make friends. You won’t be able to help it. Unless you keep your earbuds in at every moment and never ever make eye contact with a single person. Conversations will start. Not everyone you meet made their quota of super-cemented friendships during their freshman year. Some of them have just changed their major. Some of them are older than the crowd or from another country or starting over in some other fundamental way. Maybe they transferred just like you. Be open to making friends, and you will. It really is that simple.
Remember that it goes by fast. Community college was like the long uphill part of a roller coaster: slow and arduous with no way to see what’s on the other side of the climb. CalSO is your moment of stillness and silence at the top, so look around. After this, it’s a thrilling ride that goes faster than you can catch your breath. Don’t close your eyes. Put your hands up and enjoy the whole thing.
Welcome to Berkeley.
Contact Meg Elison at [email protected]