My first attempt at college was a disaster. My second attempt was a two-year recovery from the first attempt. This is my third attempt.
UC Berkeley accepted me in 2017 as a 2018 spring-admit transfer student. By the time I started my classes here, after five semesters at Boston University and then a few more semesters at a community college in Southern California, I was already several months past when I had thought I would have earned my bachelor’s degree, and I still had two more years to go — certainly not what I’d envisioned for myself when I was an almost-straight-A student in high school.
I never really settled down during my first two college experiences. When I was in Boston, I was miserable; when I was in SoCal, I mostly just tried to piece myself back together. I knew that once I moved to Berkeley, I would have to put more of a concerted effort into finding my niche, especially since I was starting during the middle of the school year. So, I went to nearly every event during orientation, signed up for classes I was interested in — hoping to find like-minded people — looked at every damn booth at the clusterfuck that is Calapalooza, attended a few info sessions and just generally tried to take advantage of the myriad opportunities available. I was determined to make the most of this experience.
Within the first month of my first semester here, I joined the two groups that have defined my two-year stint at UC Berkeley: The Daily Californian and the UC Berkeley chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, which focuses on mental health awareness and support. I found these groups through a combination of luck, open-mindedness and looking at every damn booth at Calapalooza.
In hindsight, the story of my first semester at UC Berkeley seems pretty simple: I wanted to find places where I belong, and I found those places in a matter of weeks. But I also remember the less-rosy details of the story.
I remember attending my first Daily Cal party and feeling absolutely petrified. I was the only new person from my department at the party, and I noticed that seemingly most of the people there were already friends. I started to sweat. Anxiety skittered across my skin. I didn’t know what to do, so I drank. And drank. And spoke to people a little bit. But mostly just drank until the room was spinning almost as fast as the scrambled thoughts swirling around my head. Result: worst hangover of my life. Upside: I learned how much alcohol is too much.
I remember spending hours typing a group message, revising it several times and then distracting myself for a couple more hours before I finally hit “send.” I was just asking a few NAMI people if they wanted to hang out with me, but that’s kind of a difficult thing to ask if you’re not used to having friends. Or hanging out with people at all. Or talking. But fast-forward to the present: These people are amazing, and they are now my friends.
It took me most of 2018 to fight off the self-doubt and impostor syndrome so I could accept that I do have friends here and there are places here where I belong. And sure, it’s difficult to be a spring-admit transfer student; I haven’t had much time to find my place at UC Berkeley, and even the fall-admit transfer students had a one-semester advantage over me — we were accepted to UC Berkeley at the same time, but they spent months acclimating to life here before I’d even arrived. But I’m not sure if my experience as a January admit is really much different from other transfer students’ experiences.
All of us needed some time to adjust to being UC Berkeley students — my adjustment period just happened to begin in January rather than August. And I would guess that fall-admit transfer students share the sense of urgency that I feel during my time here. Even students who started at UC Berkeley as freshmen talk about feeling rushed, and they have at least double the amount of time that I’ve been given.
My story is not that unique. All of us transfer students have taken slightly (or very) nontraditional paths to our expected degrees. What matters now is that we’re here, and we’re still trying.
My first semester at UC Berkeley was lonely and difficult. But I’m glad I challenged myself during those months, and I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had here. And to the 2019 spring-semester admits: new year, new school, new you. The opportunities are there if you’re ready to seize them.
This is my third attempt at college; I’m happy with how it’s gone so far.