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Coming into Carolina from community college

I’ll never forget my experience of getting accepted into Carolina two years ago. Nothing quite like printing your own acceptance letter from ConnectCarolina to make an Instagram announcement to share the news with your friends from school.

I spent all of high school preparing for this time in my life. I had been dual-enrolled in college classes at our local community college A-B Tech, and I thought I was prepared for university. As it turns out, though, the university experience proves to be wildly different.

Our opportunities to get involved are abound. Here, we have tons of clubs, sports, facilities, professors, and talented people. I’m taking enriching photojournalism and darkroom photography classes that wouldn’t have been offered in a million years at A-B Tech. And we have a wide support system of extremely experienced professors and peers to help you build your skills and get you connected to opportunities across the globe.

These past two years have been jam-packed with stuff I actually love to do, whereas my extracurriculars in high school were basically just community college and my part-time job. It was a pretty boring existence.

I have to say, though, as much as I love being here at UNC, I sometimes really miss A-B Tech.

A view of the blue ridge mountains in the distance from A-B Tech’s main campus in Asheville. Analisa Sorrells/EducationNC

In community college, there’s such a wide age gap between students in each class. You have students anywhere from fourteen year olds to forty year olds and beyond. Many students have full-time jobs (or two or three part-time jobs, because that’s Asheville for you), children, and any number of other commitments outside of the classroom. The work-life balance of community college classwork is flexible out of necessity.

Because of this, the opportunities available at A-B Tech were open to everyone. Each discussion featured a wide diversity of viewpoints, age groups, class statuses, abilities, etc. Enrollment at a university was considered a luxury or a distant dream to some of my peers. 

Now that I’m at UNC, I’m intensely involved. I’m all in. The only thing is that I feel like I’m stuck in a bubble with other people who are somehow simultaneously too much like me and nothing like me. 

Students at A-B Tech weren’t afraid to ask stupid questions. I operated under the assumption that if you had a question, someone else probably also has that question, so it’s best to ask it in class. At UNC, though, when I speak up during a lecture to ask for clarification, I can hear the sighs of grief across the classroom for wasting everyone’s precious time. That’s something that never would have happened at A-B Tech.

I guess the difference is that UNC brought me to Chapel Hill whereas Asheville brought me to A-B Tech.

My biggest piece of advice is to advocate for yourself though this whole experience! We transfer students don’t all have the luxury to spend however long we want to here, and we don’t have much time to build our network in this community. Plan meticulously so you can get all of your courses done in your timeframe and reach out early on and build rapport with professors who are teaching the classes you want to take.

They might be busier (and maybe sometimes a little harder to follow, or a little more high-and-mighty) than community college instructors, but they want you to learn and succeed in your field.

I wouldn’t trade either experience for the world. A-B Tech made me inclusive and friendly, and UNC is making me fortified and indestructible. Each educational opportunity and environment is unique and valuable in its own way. It might not be just like your hometown, but don’t be afraid to get involved in the UNC community.

Editor’s note: This perspective was first published as a column by the Daily Tar Heel. It has been posted with the author’s permission.

Allie Rowe

Alli Rowe is a senior Media and Journalism student at UNC Chapel Hill and the production manager and summer design editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She graduated in 2017 with her Associate in Arts from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College while attending Buncombe County Early College high school.