Second freshman year: UNC transfer students adjust to new expectations

By Jackie Sizing

Freshman year of college is one of the hardest transitions.

Most freshman are living on their own for the first time, away from their family and friends in an unfamiliar place.

Imagine doing it all twice.

Last fall semester, at 7:30 a.m., junior Mikayla Goss woke up for her first day of classes. Goss did her normal morning routine: take a shower, brush her teeth, pick out her outfit for the day and pack her backpack.

Regardless, Goss could not shake her nerves. It wasn’t her first time going to college classes, but as a transfer, it was her first day of classes ever at UNC-Chapel Hill.

For the past two years, Goss lived with her family in Newport, North Carolina, and went to Carteret Community College.

People warned her about “transfer shock,” and she didn’t believe them at first. But the campus was huge, and Goss didn’t know many people aside from her roommate.

“The first week of classes at UNC was one of the hardest weeks of my life,” Goss said. “I didn’t expect it to be that way.”

Junior Camille DiBenedetto, who transferred from Drexel University in Philadelphia, said she cried her first night at UNC because of homesickness.

“I was stressed at first,” DiBenedetto said. “But I think the process of transferring is scarier than being in a new place.”

Imposter syndrome

These experiences are common among many new UNC transfers.

Luke Fayard, counselor and transfer student coordinator, said in an email interview that imposter syndrome is common among new transfers.

“UNC demands much more of students than they expect, when they have done nothing but shine in every college class they’ve taken,” Fayard said. “They get here, see the assignments and think, ‘Admissions made a mistake. I don’t know that I belong here or if I can actually do this.’”

It took time for Goss to adjust to the rigorous and demanding UNC classes.

“A few tears were shed,” she said. “My stress about academics and my new surroundings were a bad combination.”

Fayard said this doubt is powerful and dangerous for overachievers because it’s new.

“The impostor syndrome, combined with the very incorrect outlook that everyone else here is doing great, makes it very hard for my transfer friends to feel at home,” Fayard said. “They feel as if they are on an island, and they are alone in their struggles.”

Junior Crystal Dezha, who transferred from Appalachian State University sophomore year, had a unique experience. While most transfers come fall semester, Dezha and a few others arrived in the spring, halfway through the year.

Dezha was excited to transfer to Carolina, but that excitement dimmed during the first few weeks.

Dezha felt she had less guidance than fall transfers, and that made the transition harder, taking a mental toll.

Fayard can’t tell you how often he meets a transfer student having a hard time with their mental health.

Personality traits such as perfectionism, anxiety over every detail and pressure from themselves or others get lots of students to UNC, but they can also lead to mental health struggles, Fayard said.

Dezha said she thinks this is true for transfer students but that there is a ton of encouragement to seek help.

“They do not want you to suffer in silence,” she said.

Dezha hesitated about going to therapy before coming to UNC. However, she went for the first time last semester and enjoyed it.

“I was in a bad place, and it really helped me with the things I was going through,” Dezha said.

Easing the transition

When it comes to resources for transfer students, Fayard thinks the university can always do better, but he is impressed with how many people on campus value transfer students and try to help him take care of them.

“I thought I might be swimming upstream here in Chapel Hill, but I have been pleasantly surprised,” Fayard said. “In speaking with prospective students’ parents, I’ve had numerous be blown away that my job even exists, because they have not seen anything like it elsewhere.”

Goss, Dezha and DiBenedetto are all happy with the number of resources for transfer students.

“I am always getting emails,” Goss said. “About transfer events, resources for classes I may be struggling in, career services events – it’s great to feel thought of, even if I can’t always go.”

Some transfer-specific programs include Personal Librarian, Transfer Student Ambassadors and Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program.

After about two weeks, DiBenedetto got into the groove of her classes and joined the UNC chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that pairs students with people who have developmental and intellectual disabilities. She is always meeting new people now.

“I felt right at home,” DiBenedetto said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Fayard wants transfer students to make UNC what they want it to be.

“You are not here for UNC, UNC is here for you,” Fayard said. “There are so many offices, opportunities, and resources around UNC to help you create the education that you want for yourself. There is no mold, make your own.”

Dezha advises new transfers to put themselves out there.

“And, again, look for help,” Dezha said. “There were plenty of times where I told myself I was going to figure it out later but didn’t.”

Fayard said transfers need to trust that they belong and not see being a transfer student as a weakness.

“Don’t waste time and energy on impostor syndrome,” he said. “Let’s say you got invited to the party on accident. So? You’re here! Take advantage of it.”


Edited by Liz Johnson