Plan Your Time @ Cal: Transfers

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Transfer’s Guide to Organizing an Academic Career.

Think Ahead to Maximize Your Time

The latter half of your college career is, arguably, the most important. It is a time when I’ve said goodbye to breadth requirements and honed in on classes that relate to what I want to pursue in the future. As a transfer student, I see my time at UC Berkeley as precious and I want to make the most out of it. Planning out my semesters is one of the best ways to do this. Here are some tips (from me and other transfer students) so that you can too.

Go By Your Major Completion Sheet

It’s crucial to ensure that your course planning over the latter half of your college career is meeting all of your major requirements. The courses that need to be completed to declare your major should be first priority. Choose classes that bring you one step closer to completing your major outline before adding electives. Sometimes courses don’t occur every semester so it’s important to jump on taking them when you see them.

Check-In with Major and College Advisors before Enrolling

You may be a pro at this point when it comes to enrolling, but it never hurts to compare notes with the experts. Major and college advisors have always provided helpful guidance at every stage of planning and enrollment.

After consulting with a few of the student staff at The Transfer Center, here are some of their top tips.

“Consistently meet with your major advisor and college advisor. I think if you have a plan ahead of time, it makes it easier to stay on track and follow.” — Julie Vu, senior, Political Economy major with a Technology and the Economy Concentration

Sometimes courses have prerequisites or require your major to be declared to be accepted. As I was planning my schedule for the spring semester, I wanted to enroll in a major-required seminar that is typically completed senior year but is also open to Juniors. After double-checking that Juniors can take this seminar, my advisor informed me that my course credit from my previous college had not been processed, therefore I haven’t been able to declare my major. I would have been rejected from adding the class during my enrollment date since I must be declared to take this specific course.

“I feel it is vital to have a relationship with your major advisor. I just had a situation this semester where if I had not had regular communication with my major advisor I may have missed a requirement and jeopardized my graduation date. Emailing to check in on how you are doing academically (it doesn’t have to be an appointment in my experience) can mitigate against unexpected surprises and honestly, it’s good for your mental health to know where you stand.” — Julio Gomez, senior, Anthropology and Native American studies major

Asking your advisor simple questions can lead to answers that you didn’t know you needed.

Plan via Enrollment Center Tab in CalCentral

Your Schedule Planner and Enrollment Center are your best friends when preparing for each new semester of classes. When your upcoming term appears in the Class Schedule of Berkeley’s Academic Guide, search for classes based on your major or minor requirements. Prioritize enrolling in those courses first, since after your first semester as a transfer student, all of your subsequent semesters are subjected to the Phase 1 and Phase 2 system — meaning you’re limited to 13.5 units during Phase 1 and 17.5 for Phase 2. These unit caps are meant for everyone to have a fair registration as it prevents upperclassmen from enrolling in as may courses as they want which leaves no space for those with later enrollment times. The second phase is to allow room to add more classes after everyone’s initial enrollment period is over. You can enroll in more courses during the second phase and later in the Adjustment Period.

If you feel like two years is too small of a time frame to take all of the classes that you want, extensions are also an option.

“We transfers always feel like we don’t have enough time here at Cal to accomplish all we want to do. Extend! I read somewhere that the average student takes an extra year (so traditional students stay on average for 5 years, transfers on average 3 years). Some students know what they want to do and want to do it quickly, spending as little time at school as possible. Some of us want to experience more that the university has to offer and extending your time here by an extra semester or two is doable upon approval from your college.” — Julio Gomez, Senior, Anthropology and Native American Studies major

DeCals Add Up

Oftentimes there are DeCals that fall under a specific major. Consider these fun, personalized classes when you’re deciding on how to meet your requirements. The units in these DeCals can translate to credit for major units. As an English major, my advisors send an announcement about available DeCals at the beginning of the semester. Since these classes vary between one to two units, taking a few over multiple semesters eventually adds up to four-unit upper-division electives. I can be in a Young Adult Literature DeCal this semester and possibly work for The Fiction Review next semester instead of taking a course reading seventeenth-century Milton. No offense to Milton.

Transfer Mentorship Program

First semester as a transfer? The Transfer Mentorship Program pairs you with a continuing transfer student in your major who can help you navigate what your schedule should look like over the course of your years at Berkeley. They can also give you the inside scoop on the best modes of action in situations you may encounter that go beyond academics. Sign up to be a mentee (or a mentor!) at the beginning of a semester to be paired up in the first few weeks.

Meet with the Career and Study Abroad Centers

As a transfer, it feels like you’re thrown into things immediately. So make appointments with Berkeley Career Engagement and with Berkeley Study Abroad (if you’re interested) as soon as you can. Deadlines for internships and abroad applications approach faster than you think. The process of planning a study abroad trip or thinking about career readiness seems daunting, so taking it step by step is key. For example, I’m meeting with a Study Abroad peer advisor next week to gain direction and information on potentially going abroad next summer. If you take little steps like this every week or so it adds up, and when those deadlines approach, you’ll be ready. These two centers are full of advisors who want to help you reach that dream internship or foreign country. They’re like a gold mine waiting to be tapped into. Pop into either of their locations and schedule appointments while you have these crucial resources at your fingertips.

“Apply to internships early ahead of time because that’s going to get you started in the game and take initiative. Start speaking to alumni, it is very important to start speaking with alumni because they are able to help. Make sure you utilize those resources with Berkeley Career Engagement. Another piece of advice I’d give to transfer students is utilize LinkedIn. When they start adding connections like Cal alumni and reaching out by coffee chats for example, the more practice they have the better for their field beyond Berkeley.” — Julie Vu, senior, Political Economy major with a Technology and the Economy Concentration

Create a Two-Year Plan

Use your major completion sheet to plan what you need to take each semester to graduate. For example, I needed to take a specific English class for a major requirement but it wasn’t being offered this upcoming semester. I put that class in my planner for next fall. I personally recommend getting any lower-division requirements out of the way during your semesters as a Junior if you haven’t done so already at your previous college. My rationale is to take all of these courses first so that by my senior year I’ll have more freedom with upper-division electives and potentially take a lighter course load. Another strategy is to balance more difficult classes with other major-related electives. This prevents your schedule from feeling overwhelming which could lead to burnout.

”I want to take my time with my major and not view courses as requirements. Even though I have classes required for my major, I try not to connotate them as something I’m forced to do, but as classes that are a part of my experience here. I leave one class in my schedule for electives and DeCals so I can still dip my toe in other things that Berkeley has to offer. For me, my English degree is the reason why I’m here, and it’s not something I intend to rush through.” — Madeleine Mishler, junior, English major

Remember to Have Fun!

Even though I emphasize prioritizing your requirements, these next two years shouldn’t feel like a rat race. Take classes you enjoy, meet with your professors, and get involved in activities outside of academics. The two-year plan isn’t exclusive to your course schedule, but includes everything that adds to your experience at Berkeley.

“I think my advice for new and continuing transfers would be to make time in their schedules for clubs and activities. I remember missing out on so many great opportunities my first semester because I thought I had to buckle down and focus everything I had into my academics—which you should, but not to the point where it consumes your entire time here. Time at Cal is short for transfers and I didn’t really realize that until my second semester here. Therefore, what’s really worked for me when it comes to making time is scheduling my classes around certain days and time blocs. For me it’s great because l have days where I can strictly focus on my academics, but also days for myself to fill with all the amazing stuff here at Cal and beyond. Maybe this can work for other transfers who are trying to find a balance between work and play so as to maximize their time here!” — Alberto Garcia, senior, Sociology and Public Policy major

This is a valuable time, in more ways than one. Consciously planning and being proactive will allow you to get everything you want out of your experience at Cal. The opportunities are all there, you just need to pursue them.


Preslee Vanlandingham is a third year at UC Berkeley majoring in English.

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