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A different path

Carolina has been Skylar Mclean's dream school since she was a kid, but while attending high school, she didn't feel that she was academically or financially ready for Carolina. A school field trip to a local community college changed the trajectory of her post-secondary education plans of pursuing a career in nursing.

Skylar Mclean
(Photo by Brittany D. Cowan/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Inspired by her high school years of playing sports and working as a student athletic trainer, Skylar Mclean has always known that she wanted to help people and provide hands-on patient care as a health care professional.

Carolina is helping make that dream come true.

“Being born in Chapel Hill, Carolina is a dream school for a lot of people,” Mclean said. “And for me, it was my dream school.”

While attending high school in Pittsboro, North Carolina, Mclean did not feel that she was academically or financially ready for Carolina. However, a school field trip to a local community college changed the trajectory of her post-secondary education plans of pursuing a career in nursing.

On the trip, Mclean learned more about the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, an initiative within undergraduate admissions that provides talented low- and moderate-income high school and community college students admission to Carolina upon finishing their community college courses.

“C-STEP gave me the opportunity to be able to grow personally and save money at the same time,” said Mclean, now a senior nursing student at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Mclean earned her associate degree from Central Carolina Community College in 2020. That August, Mclean transferred to Carolina as an exercise and sports science major after she was waitlisted at the UNC School of Nursing.

Because nursing remained her ultimate goal, she reapplied to the nursing school and began her courses the following year.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Mclean said. “If you take your time and don’t compare your journey to others, it’s going to be a lot better.”

Mclean adjusted to life as a Tar Heel as she met new friends and participated in campus activities.

“I think [C-STEP] has helped me with communication building and strengthening relationships to make it not as hard to talk to new people,” Mclean said. “C-STEP has also given me a lot of opportunities that I enjoy being a part of.”

She’s also spent her years at Carolina finding ways to give back. She serves on C-STEP’s leadership board and is the chair of the UNC School of Nursing’s Undergraduate Student Governance Council. Through these activities, she helps create events and service initiatives to support other C-STEP students and give back to the community.

“When you’re in a community college, you’re with the same groups of people every day because you’re in a much smaller space,” Mclean said. “When you get to Carolina, you’re all spread out, and you almost feel a little lost at first. C-STEP feels like our backbone, and it gave me the confidence in myself to know that I can actually do this.”