I never wanted to confess this, but when I applied to transfer colleges, I was rejected by nearly every school I applied to. So when I opened my application status from UC Berkeley and saw a bolded CONGRATULATIONS, watching as digital confetti rained down on my computer screen, I thought it was a mistake. I thought maybe this was one of those horrific cases in which the admissions office accidentally sent acceptance letters to all its applicants, and I was in fact rejected.
After a week of not hearing from the admissions office or of any news that UC Berkeley mistakenly sent out acceptance letters to all its applicants, I realized my admission was legitimate.
Although I originally was reluctant to believe my acceptance, I thought that adjusting to UC Berkeley would be easier for me, as I was transferring from a four-year university. I had already undergone the freshman-year blues, managed relentless academic work, and learned to live more like an adult. If I could do all of this at my old university, I thought I could certainly manage at UC Berkeley. However, after my first few days, I immediately learned how wrong I was. Being a student here demanded so much more from me.
Everyone at UC Berkeley is brilliant. It seemed to me that nearly every student could recite the periodic table off the top of their head, lambaste any Wall Street wonk about the merits of socialism versus capitalism, and confidently elaborate on the politics of sustainability in China. And what further exacerbated my feeling of inadequacy was that everyone I encountered was incredibly accomplished. Not only was seemingly everyone undertaking a research project and writing an honors thesis, they were also starting their own nonprofit centered on women’s empowerment in Kenya, interning at Google, studying for the Medical College Admission Test and acting as president of their consulting club.
It’s a persistent insecurity that persuades us we don’t belong at this exceptional university with exceptional people, because we did not begin on the same four-year track as most of our undergraduate peers.
What made me equal to these students? Had I really accomplished enough to place me in the same institution as these prodigies? It seemed as though my acceptance into UC Berkeley was like winning the lottery — based on pure luck.
The tendency to doubt one’s academic legitimacy or success — otherwise known as impostor syndrome — seems to occur most frequently among transfer students. It’s a persistent insecurity that persuades us we don’t belong at this exceptional university with exceptional people, because we did not begin on the same four-year track as most of our undergraduate peers.
I did feel like a fraud during my first few weeks, and more often than not, I would hear other transfer students express the same anxieties; we were somehow able to take a shortcut, cut corners in order to get accepted into UC Berkeley without having to begin our college experience here. But these misconceptions are far from the truth: Nearly half of all UC Berkeley transfer students are first-generation college students, nearly half come from low-income backgrounds, and students transfer in with an average GPA of 3.75.
This is not to say that somehow transfer students are more deserving of a UC Berkeley acceptance or that they necessarily work harder than other undergraduates, but it suggests that transfer students are equally worthy of attending one of the best universities in the world. The transfer student path to receiving a degree from a world-renowned university such as UC Berkeley shouldn’t be invalidated.
Even after shedding a light on the reality of the transfer student experience, I don’t think we will ever fully overcome impostor syndrome. I don’t think anyone does.
The transfer student path to receiving a degree from a world-renowned university such as UC Berkeley shouldn’t be invalidated.
I remember that during final exams season last spring semester, I felt a sense of disbelief that I was still here, finishing my first year at UC Berkeley. I reminisced with a friend about receiving our college acceptances and coming to Berkeley. My friend had been at UC Berkeley for four years, and was one of those annoyingly humble overachievers who double majored, earned a prestigious summer internship and was on his way to graduating with highest distinction. So I was shocked when he suddenly said he should never have gotten in here.
This student who had followed the traditional four-year track to UC Berkeley, had a list of incredible accomplishments and was about to graduate still was reluctant to accept that he deserved to be here.
As recent graduates and older alumni grow nostalgic about their time as undergraduate students, more often than not, the sentiment they share is awe — awe that they were able to get into UC Berkeley, doubt that they would be accepted again if they were to apply now, and gratitude for the opportunity to share a part of their identity as a UC Berkeley graduate with other extraordinary people.
So maybe tinges of impostor syndrome will always linger with us, even after we graduate. Yet I think rather than allowing it to deter us during the rest of our time here, it can be our main spark to push us to do more in pursuit of this academic ideal. Of course, we’ll never be satisfied with ourselves, but this is not the quality of an impostor; it’s the quality of a true UC Berkeley student.