Meet Diana Castro
Where did you begin your college career? Where did you end up?
As I was about to graduate from high school, the thought of the cost of attending a university for four years seemed daunting. I felt that attending community college was the best way to go to reduce those costs.
Many people suggested against attending community college fearing that I would get “stuck” and stay longer than needed, or possibly drop out. It wasn’t until I was in the midst of transferring that my family was able to see that attending community college was the best choice for me.
I decided to attend Irvine Valley College, which is further from my home compared to the other community colleges in the area. I wanted to distance myself from my high school, so that I would be more focused on school instead of being distracted by having friends in my classes. Wanting to stay focused on school came with endless hours spent in bumper-to-bumper traffic, 12-hour school days, and countless naps in my car between classes.
After two years in community college, I transferred to UC Berkeley in Spring 2016. I am currently in my fifth semester at Berkeley. Technically, I was supposed to graduate last fall but I made the decision to stay another semester to continue enjoying my time at Berkeley and take advantage of all the opportunities here.
Did you complete an associate’s degree before transferring?
My sole focus was fulfilling the Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC), which is needed to transfer from a California Community College into the UC system. I was so focused on transferring that I didn’t stop to think that I should complete the additional courses for an associate’s degree. Knowing that my parents preferred for me to attend a four-year university rather than community college, I was in a rush to leave and only took classes to satisfy the requirements to transfer.
This rush to leave community college led to semesters where I was enrolled in over 20 units at a time. In the effort to not become “stuck,” I forfeited enjoying my time at community college. I was constantly stressed with school and because I was working two jobs. Not only did I not take the extra classes needed to complete an associate’s degree, but I also wasn’t able to take classes that I was interested in, that weren’t part of the transfer requirements.
What drew you to your new campus?
Once I started school at community college and saw that I was getting better grades, UC Berkeley seemed more feasible. I wanted to visit the campus before applying, so I made the seven-hour car ride with a close friend to visit the school for a few days. This college visit was the first trip I had made without my family, and my first college visit to a non-commuter institution.
Being able to visit Berkeley with the potential of attending one day, gave me a sense of pride. I don’t feel that many first-generation students allow themselves to feel this way. It is not easy navigating the world of higher education, especially when transferring and coming from an underprivileged background. It felt great knowing that I could make my parents proud by continuing my education at such an institution, especially since they didn’t have the same opportunities as the ones they gave me.
What were your concerns with your change? What were the most difficult parts of transferring?
I was already categorized as a “non-traditional” student because I was a first-generation college student and American. I felt even more “non-traditional” because I was granted spring admission as a junior transfer student. Hearing the news that I received spring admission made me feel as if I was “sort of accepted” or not as welcome or valued as other transfer students who had been admitted for fall.
Not only did I feel behind students who had come in during their first year of college, I also felt behind transfer students who started at the beginning of the academic year. I felt that it was going to be much harder to get comfortable and get to know people since everyone had time to settle, leaving me to play catch up.
Who was one person at your new institution who helped you as you made your transfer?
A person that helped me immensely when I transferred to my new institution was another transfer student, my friend Catalina. I met her when I joined the Model United Nations team in community college, which was one of the only academic extracurricular activities that I participated in during my time at community college. She transferred to Berkeley the semester before I did, and was able to provide me with guidance in transferring before I made the move. Once I transferred, she helped me become comfortable with the campus and surrounding area.
Her support, and having her as a connection to the campus, taught me that as a transfer student I had a lot to
offer, just like any other student. This experience encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone and get involved in different communities on and off campus. I previously thought I didn't belong or wouldn't have time to be involved, but now I feel a part of these communities and I am making a contribution by supporting other students.
What support, info, or advice do you wish you’d received before starting the college transfer experience?
I wish people had encouraged me to be flexible with the timelines I set for myself and to enjoy myself more. I felt as if I needed to know exactly what I wanted to do with my life, and make it happen as fast as possible. Instead, I believe it would be beneficial to support transfer students in taking as much time as they need to do what is best for them, because not all transfer students are meant to have the same success story.
Straying from the ideal timeline that I had set for myself at the start of my transfer experience has led to different opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I couldn’t have imagined myself being a part of the communities I’m involved with today if I had been a “traditional” student.