After graduating from Loudoun County’s Briar Woods High School in 2014, Shivani Tara Seth took a semester off to work on a political campaign in Harrisonburg. When the campaign ended, she mulled where she wanted to go to college.
“I was debating applying to college as a first-year, or going to community college to try to make the semester up. I didn’t want to graduate behind my academic class of peers,” she said recently in a meeting in the lobby of the University of Virginia’s Alderman Library.
In the end, Seth opted to start at Northern Virginia Community College, with the plan of transferring to a four-year institution.
Last fall, she and nearly 650 other transfer students arrived on Grounds; and like her, about half started their higher educations in the Virginia Community College System.
That’s in part due to UVA’s Guaranteed Admissions Agreement with the Virginia Community College System. It stipulates that students who earn an associate’s degree from one of Virginia’s 23 community colleges and a minimum grade-point average in a specified curriculum may obtain guaranteed admission to the University. Of the 11 schools at UVA, the University’s agreement extends to the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Nursing and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“Tara is a wonderful example that with hard work, community college students can join the student body at McIntire outside the community college agreement,” said Rebecca Leonard, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion and director of undergraduate admission at the McIntire School of Commerce. She said that more than half of the students who transfer to McIntire come from the Virginia Community College system.
Now a third-year student in UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, Seth has been thinking a lot about what it means to transition from transfer student to full-time Wahoo. She shared her top-10 transition tips with UVA Today.
- The University is welcoming. A lot of community college students ask me, “When I get here, are people going to look down on me because I transferred from a community college?” The answer is no, absolutely not. When you say you are a transfer, people here are excited and impressed by that. They are more likely to say “Hey, do you want to grab lunch? Do you want to grab coffee?” They want to welcome you into the University community.
- Use your professors as resources. They are here to help you succeed. They want to get to know you and your personal journey. I think a lot of people struggle with the intensity of the course-load in the transition from community college to UVA. Go to professors’ office hours and get their help. Practice going to office hours while you’re still in community college, so when you get to Grounds, you’re prepared to seek out advice when you need it.
- Seek out transfer mentors, both formal and informal. I had support from both the Admissions Office’s Transfer Student Peer Advisor program and through McIntire. Also, in my first week on Grounds, I asked someone where Alderman Library was. She asked me what year I was, and I said I was a third-year. Then she asked if I’d just transferred to UVA and told me she had transferred the year before and that we should be friends. So my message is to find mentors informally and formally. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re still finding your way. By having those mentors, you are developing a support system.
- Seek out people who are different from you: people who have been here since their first year, people from different states, or people from different countries. I remember during Opening Convocation, President Sullivan said, “Look at who is sitting next to you. If you are a first-year, seek out somebody who just transferred here. If you are a transfer, seek out a first-year.” The person sitting next to me was a first-year – we looked over and nodded to one another, and sang “The Good Ol’ Song” together for the first time as UVA students. So seek out people whose experiences are different from your own. The University community is diverse, and that diversity expands your education beyond the context of the classroom.
- Surround yourself with “your people.” Find people who make you smile or feel grateful, or people you can learn something from. I think a lot of people – first-years, too – feel pressure to join the most prestigious organizations on Grounds.It is much more important to focus on finding your group. Ultimately, that is going to be a lot more fulfilling than being able to name-drop specific organizations on your résumé. I focused on finding friends who are a support network and who are there for me and who have things they can teach me, and who are excited to be a part of my life. Don’t isolate yourself. Many transfers make that mistake. Instead, make it a point to be involved, because that’s how you’ll begin to find your community. Also, be a resource to others, because that is fulfilling. The more you welcome other people, the more you realize that you are a UVA student and that you belong here.
- Never be ashamed of your journey. I think a lot of people have a pre-conceived notion of what a community college student is and I think because of that, many of us are tempted to forget that part of our lives. But instead, I choose to challenge people’s ideas on community college, and be thankful for the things I learned and the people I met. In community college, many of my closest friends were adult learners. The experience of working with people who were at a different point in their lives definitely added to my personal perspective. Also, the fact that I took a semester off made me appreciate school so much more. My journey is what made me who I am.
- Live by the term ‘illimitable.’ That is something we say here a lot. I would say make that who you are; embrace that. When you are having a hard day and when things are overwhelming, say to yourself “I am illimitable. That’s who I am.” When I first got here, the transition was overwhelming. There are going to be moments that are intimidating. You are going to be in a lecture hall with 200 people, whereas in community college, you were in a class with 10 other people. Just realize you are somebody who shouldn’t set limits for yourself. Always strive to destroy the limits you have set for yourself and push yourself to live by the word ‘illimitable.’
- Explore the University. I recommend asking other people what their favorite place on Grounds is so you can go to them, see them and experience them. Also, find your own. My favorite place on Grounds is the reading nook on the third floor of the Special Collections Library. From the window, you can see the piece of the Berlin Wall and the Rotunda. It’s a really cool view.
- Explore the city. When I was visiting Grounds, I would go to coffee shops to see if this was a city where I wanted to live: I’d people-watch, I’d see whether I thought this was an intellectual city, and I’d use that to discern whether Charlottesville was a city I could see myself in. I would suggest finding places in the city where you can go when the academic environment is a bit overwhelming. Have resources and places that you love on Grounds, but also find places you love in Charlottesville.
- Be patient with yourself. You are moving to a new city. You are putting yourself around people you’ve never met before, professors you’ve never met before, buildings you’ve never been in before. All of that is inherently stressful. Don’t expect that overnight you are going to walk in and think, “This is my home.” It’s going to take time. I recommend that people are kind to themselves and patient, because the transfer experience is a journey. It’s not something that makes you feel that you are immediately part of the University. It takes time. For me, patience took the form of realizing I’m not going to be 100 percent perfect every day. Realize that you will make mistakes. Failure is a beautiful thing. It is something you should be proud of, because at the end of the day, it’s not a question of whether you succeeded; it’s a question of whether you tried your hardest. Each failure you have is going to teach you. We come to UVA because we are high achievers, but that usually also means that we are not used to failure; only used to success. But life is long. It’s filled with people saying “no,” and with doors closing in your face. You have to practice turning failure into wisdom now to succeed in the future. The measure of who you are is not how many times you succeeded or failed, but how you handle your failures and successes. When one door shuts, another one opens.
Seth’s list is nearly identical to that of UVA’s Transfer Advisory Board, which is tasked with making the transfer experience at UVA as positive as it can be. If you want to learn more about Seth’s journey or have questions, visit UVA’s Facebook page March 14 at 11 a.m. for a Facebook Live event about transferring to UVA.