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'It all becomes magical': UNC students offer advice to the class of 2026

UNC students take part in the 2021 SmallFest, an adapted version of the FallFest tradition from years past, on Aug. 24. For many students, getting involved in campus organizations is a way of finding community.

As a new class of UNC students prepares to step onto campus for the first time, some rising juniors and seniors offered their advice to the incoming Tar Heels.

Rising senior Cameron Bailey said that although the first couple of weeks of college can be tough, it is important to push through and take in as much of the college experience as possible.

Bailey added that it's easy to forget how quickly the four years can pass by.

“It all just becomes magical,” she said.

Yasmine Hernandez, a rising junior who is majoring in clinical lab science, shared a similar sentiment.

“Enjoy it," Hernandez said. "It can be scary at first but once you are here and you get into it, it’s going to go by super fast and that’s kind of crazy.”

She is a member of Cadence, an a cappella group on campus that was founded in 2003.

After COVID-19 limited her ability to socialize during her first year at UNC, Hernandez sought out clubs as a way to branch out and meet new people. She decided to audition for different a cappella groups, and since then has been a member of Cadence.

“When you join a club or an organization you automatically have, at least Cadence-wise, a group of a bunch of girls that are just there for you wholeheartedly,” Hernandez said. “You know that they are going to have your back when something happens, and you know they are going to love you and accept you.” 

With hundreds of clubs and organizations dedicated to arts, sports, culture and academics, many students are able to find a community that fits them. Students are also free to create their own club that caters to their interests.

Natalie Tuinstra, a rising junior majoring in psychology and information studies, is the founder and president of De Nederlandse Club, which is dedicated to learning about Dutch culture.

“There’s a lot of clubs, and if you don’t see a club that you want, you can make one,” she said. “I’m in Dutch right now. I wanted to join a dutch club, and we didn’t have one.”

The ability to create campus organizations has allowed for students like Tuinstra to build their own community.

Tuinstra also emphasized not only the importance of joining clubs, but also taking classes outside of your comfort zone. 

“There’s so many different things, that I never thought I'd be interested in, that I had the opportunity to take," she said. "Because they fulfilled my general education requirements, and I had plenty of time for it.”

Keeping an open mind with general education requirements and class registration has also introduced students to a major or minor they didn’t even know they would be interested in.

Rising junior Quinn Mahone's biggest piece of advice to first-year students is to plan for registration ahead of time and have backup options ready.

As a neuroscience major, Mahone said he feels the classes he wants tend to fill up very quickly during the class registration process.

“Sit down two or three days before," he said. "Put all of your classes on a whiteboard or onto a poster paper with sticky notes, and create scenarios in your head about what happens if I don’t get this class or this other class."

For many students, including Mahone, another quintessential part of the UNC experience is watching sports teams compete in big games.

Mahone's favorite experience so far at UNC was when the men's basketball team defeated its rival Duke Blue Devils in the final regular season game on March 5. As is tradition, thousands of Tar Heel fans rushed Franklin Street to celebrate the victory.

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“We caught the crowd about three blocks away, and it just felt like we were almost floating towards the center,” Mahone said. “It was an electric experience."