Transfer Students and Aspiring Transfers: Know Your Worth!

I’ve attended school at UC Berkeley for a semester and a half now (plus a summer session) after having transferred from my local community college. So far, my time here has been a mad dash — from adjusting to class pace, to securing my first internship, to commuting three times a week to Palo Alto and back during the school year for said internship, to jumping head-first into programming via personal projects and some of the country’s best computer science courses, I can safely say I’m exhausted.

Of all the things I spend my time on here at school, the one thing I don’t spend much time on at all is thinking about my identity as a junior transfer student. This is an identity that includes having skipped dorm life, lower-division classes entirely, and a couple years’ worth of student debt.

Not a bad deal, but that’s still quite the difference from some of my four-year peers.

Oftentimes these differences are stigmatized and looked down upon. Community college students are made out to be unmotivated, lazy, or just plain dumb. It can be uncomfortable to explain that yes, you’re living at home for your first years of college, and yes, you swear you’re going to transfer to a four-year university. It’s easy to feel underappreciated.

Though I find that forgetting these differences helps to eliminate some perceived awkwardness or otherness that I may feel as a result of my background when interacting with other students, it’s also a bit unfortunate that I’m quick to forget that these are qualities I share with the other 4,631 Fall Semester 2016 UC Berkeley transfers I entered with. But even if I’m not always mindful of these shared experiences, there is always one thing that I am mindful of when I am engaging with my transfer peers: among transfer students here at Cal, many of us feel or have felt some level of anxiety about entering a research institution, particularly one as prestigious as this one.

Counselors and student orientation leaders were quick to reassure us that our “imposter syndrome” affliction, the feeling that our acceptance emails were mistakes and that we would be significantly dumber than everyone in our classes, was one that would pass with time. For me, it did rather quickly; I found my first summer class to be well-paced and fascinating. From the professor to my peers, everything was exciting and fun from the get-go. I did well in the course, and it adjusted me well to expectations here at Cal.

I consider myself very lucky, as I know for many, this feeling of imposter syndrome has not yet completely subsided. Classes here at Cal are hard. It can be intimidating to make friends in such a new, fast-paced environment where everyone seems so motivated and competitive. Putting in all your effort can result in a C final grade (or lower). It’s demoralizing. You feel like you have nothing of value to offer the university.

So, how did you even get here? Why would they take you, the transfer student, over admitting one more freshman with a 4.0 and 2300 SAT if it weren’t for state mandate? What do you really have to offer?

Whether you believe it or not, transfer and prospective transfer students, a lot! I made a short reference list of five reasons your identity makes your university (or future university) campus a better place.

#1) Transfer students have a track record.

You’ve completed two years’ worth of college courses, no matter how long it took you, and you’ve done well enough to show the schools you’ve applied to that you were able to succeed in an independent college environment. High school students arrive at university and for the first time have the freedom to slack off. It’s anyone’s guess whether or not the first party they attend with alcohol involved drastically alters the course of their academic career. You’ve proven that you work hard even without someone forcing you to, and that you can handle outside pressure.

If you’re an incoming transfer, you’ve also likely to have completed most, if not all, prerequisite coursework related to your intended major; this is arguably the most important part of the equation of your admission, so finish all your prerequisites!

#2) Transfer students have patience.

You’ve had times when you couldn’t get the class you wanted at the time you wanted. Instead of blaming the school or the funding for not having enough spots to accommodate you, you put your head down and took those Friday classes at 8:00 AM. You’ve had struggles you’ve overcome as an adult that have made you so much more flexible in the face of things not going your way, or in the face of questionable allocation of public funds by your university.

You don’t freak out if something takes longer to achieve than originally planned. Delaying your graduation by a semester because of unpredictable circumstances or a change of major are things that takes experience and patience to handle with grace. You’ve dealt with things not going your way, and you came out better-equipped for university because of it.

#3) Transfer students are mature.

You’ve worked while going to school. You’ve participated in on-campus activities. You’ve volunteered (voluntarily, and not just because your high school required you to!). You’ve done something in your time at community college that helped you grow as a person from the time you left high school. For some, the time in between was spent raising a family! Even if the things you’ve done seem small or irrelevant to you, these are perspectives that universities value and seek to better their academic environment. You are a role model to underclassmen who have yet to experience juggling adulthood with school!

#4) Transfer students are diverse.

Transfer students come from a more diverse set of backgrounds: at Cal, underrepresented minorities comprised 23.6% of incoming transfer students in Fall 2016 compared to 16.3% of incoming freshmen. While we can argue and point out that these numbers are still low, it’s just one way that transfer students help to make university campuses a better place. There’s also the age factor — the average age of Fall 2016 Berkeley transfer students was 23, with 8% being age 30 or older.

Even if some universities don’t tout diversity figures this high, the enrichment in demographic you provide to your current or future university, whether through your background or age, is invaluable to making your campus a better learning environment.

#5) Transfer students are scrappy.

Maybe your community college had great academic resources, or maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was tough — or downright impossible — to get a specific class. Maybe it took you four months to finally get an appointment with an academic adviser. For high school students who are now for the first time attending a public institution, it can be hard to adjust to not having ample resources easily available. Luckily for you, you’ve been there before and know what it takes to get the most out of your academic experience, even if it means taking matters into your own hands. Transfer students know how to find the resources necessary to ensure their success, even when those meant to communicate and distribute information about these resources are seemingly unavailable.

These are just five of many reasons you are valuable to your academic community, even if you’ve let the stigma surrounding community college draw you into believing that you have nothing of value to offer. Take your time at community college seriously, and I’m very certain you’ll leave way ahead.