Early one Sunday morning, my sister and I drove northbound on Highway 101 toward the Bay Area. It was about a five-hour drive to Berkeley from Santa Barbara, and we were both excited to visit the campus that would become my home for the next two years.
I’d driven to San Francisco a handful of times, but I had never been to Berkeley, nor had anyone in my family. I accepted my undergraduate offer to UC Berkeley before visiting the campus or the city — that’s how sure I was about my decision. But even though I was incredibly certain about this being the best school for me, there was still a lingering worry in the back of mind that I wouldn’t fit in with the sea of non-transfer students.
Driving up Piedmont Avenue toward Gayley Road, I saw all the fraternity and sorority houses. I saw students walking around, carrying their backpacks and chatting with one another. I felt like I was in a typical college movie, with the Alpha Delta Phi and Gamma Gamma whatever letters stamped on the nicely kept homes and the tall campus buildings looming in the distance. It was in that moment that I actually felt that I was going to a university — it was all suddenly very real.
My nerves, however, subsided when we took the campus tour we had scheduled. It made me fall in love with the campus. Every building and secluded walkway had its own charm, and I couldn’t wait to read and kick my shoes off on Faculty Gladelane in between classes. And when my sister and I, like average Berkeley tourists, took the elevator to the top of the Campanile and stared out at the bay, I was ready to start this new chapter of my life.
This mini-trip to Berkeley assured me that I had made the right decision. It also showed me that UC Berkeley had enough transfer students to warrant a Transfer Student Center.
During the long week of Golden Bear Orientation, my group mostly consisted of transfer students and international students. My group was large and somewhat awkward and cliquey throughout the week, but I found some good friends who made my transition to Berkeley easier. Some of the transfer students were younger than me and some were older than me — overall, we were a diverse bunch. But during my first week of classes, it became evident that we transfer students are not the majority.
Out of every 100 undergraduates on campus, 80 are freshman entrants and 20 are transfer entrants. In fall 2018, which was when I was admitted, there were exactly 2,332 transfers and 6,012 first-year freshmen who were accepted and enrolled. The number of transfer students who were admitted out of all of those who applied (there were 19,192 transfer applicants) seems minuscule. But these numbers show the high rate at which transfer students are on the path to a four-year university.
This isn’t a campaign to make transfer students a majority. It’s just to show that we, as transfer students, are a smaller population on campus and can have a harder time adjusting to campus life than other students.
My first week of classes was a little nerve-wracking. Of course I got lost in Dwinelle and was too shy to introduce myself with the typical class ice-breakers. But one thing that really stood out to me was how much more comfortable and ready all the traditional sophomores and juniors seemed to be, because they had obviously already assimilated to the campus and its rigor.
I’m lucky to say that my first impressions of Berkeley were overall positive. The struggles I faced at community college didn’t follow me to UC Berkeley — if anything, I feel more self-assured and grounded here in Berkeley than I did at community college.
I had to learn the ropes of another campus and its academic culture all over again, and I only have two years to make the most of my time. In a sense, the shorter amount of time I have on this campus is driving me further to have the best and most fulfilling time here possible. And though I sometimes feel as though I missed out on opportunities by not having the traditional college experience, there is something really special about being a transfer student.
As transfer students, we bring a certain level of dedication and a diversity in beliefs, backgrounds and cultures to the campus that is so distinct from what traditional students bring. And while transfer students might not be the majority, this campus would look much bleaker without us.
Mixty Espinoza writes the Friday column on her experience as a first-generation transfer student. Contact her at [email protected]