‘We belonged and we deserved to be there’: UC Berkeley transfer student alumni offer advice

Angela Serrano/Courtesy

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Magali Mercado, a daughter of Latinx immigrants and a first-generation college student, said she found it hard to believe “someone like me” was accepted to UC Berkeley as a transfer student — and she advises current transfer students to remember that they belong.

Her story is similar to those of other transfer students on campus, many of whom cannot shake the feeling of not belonging on campus — a phenomenon known as “impostor syndrome.” Their time on campus is spent navigating postgraduate plans, student organizations, academics and social life under the constraints of a ticking two-year time frame.

“I felt like I was accepted by mistake the minute I received my letter,” said Hartnell College transfer alumna Angela Serrano in an email. “I started off at Berkeley being a bit ashamed of being a transfer. I remember hearing comments about ‘taking the easy way’ in to Berkeley and hearing the subtle negative comments about community college.”

Members of the transfer student population, which can include re-entry students, veterans, student-parents and formerly incarcerated students, were admitted at a rate of 23 percent this year. Ninety-five percent of these 4,483 admitted students transferred from California community colleges.

Serrano said she advises transfer students to turn to the campus Transfer Student Center for help in navigating their transition to campus life. The center offers programs supporting transition, relationship-building and academic and career assistance, according to its website.

“Please don’t feel as if you are alone and don’t be afraid or hesitant to reach out for help and ask for resources,” Serrano said in her email. “The worst thing you could do at Berkeley is purposely isolate yourself because Berkeley can already feel like an isolating place.”

Mercado said in an email that her college experience, while at first lonely, turned around when she started an internship at the transfer center. It was there that she said she met mentors she connects with to this day, became confident in her ability to make her “presence known” and joined a community where she belonged.

Bakersfield College transfer alumna Alyce Kayes Passaglia, who graduated in 2013, said her college experience went by quickly and that she was not aware of the transfer resources on campus until it was “too late.” She added that she hopes other transfer students connect earlier with the right faculty and staff, who can help them find a transfer community in order to thrive on campus.

“I had to prepare myself mentally for the short amount of time I had to finish everything,” Mercado said in an email. “I wanted to take so many more classes and electives and be in clubs but my time was limited so I had to really pick and choose what was going to be worth my time at Berkeley.”

Stephen Wattrus, who transferred from Santa Monica College in 2012, said he encourages transfer students to experience the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity of living in the residence halls, where he said he loved the “camaraderie, the interconnectedness of you and your fellow dorm mates.”

Wattrus added that living in the residence halls lessened the feeling of impostor syndrome because he was surrounded by other students also trying to navigate their first year on campus.

The advantages of transferring from community college, the alumni said, included having more life experience and a stronger sense of self, having more time to figure out what major and career to pursue and still obtaining a degree for half the price — a degree that, as Wattrus noted, is not lessened by the fact that someone was a transfer student.

“We transfers were here for a reason, we were accepted because the University saw potential and success in us,” Mercado said in her email. “We were (a part) of the campus, we belonged and we deserved to be there.”

Contact Alyssa Bernardino at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.