Low-Income at Amherst College

Amherst is one of the best schools in the nation in regard to financial aid. Not only is it need-blind, but the financial aid officers are always willing to talk to prospective students and current students alike. I have gone to the office of financial aid multiple times this year alone to simply ask a single question or get help filling out paperwork to get a job on campus. I was even able to meet with the Dean of Financial Aid to discuss my situation.

Many people do not know this about me, but I was admitted to Amherst off the waitlist. Yes, it does happen! Being waitlisted is not a complete no; there is hope! However, once you get admitted off the waitlist, you only have a week to decide and I was unable to make a decision because my financial aid package for Amherst did not match the other school I was going to go to. Amherst was about three times as much, which did not make sense since both schools I was looking at were needblind and tried to get students to graduate without debt. After multiple phone calls, I found that Amherst was missing additional documents I had submitted to the other college - hence the discrepancy. I submitted this file to FinAid and voila! Amherst’s financial aid actually ended up being better than any other school I could have gone to. It was cheaper than my state school would have been.

Amherst College has a commitment to creating diversity on campus and one way they do this is through a mix of socio-economic statuses. While the FinAid and admission departments are extremely helpful and have made me feel welcomed on this campus, there are still the occasional comments that are made about money (typically by wealthy students who don’t realize their privilege) that set me on edge. The good thing is that people are always willing to listen to me speak up and out about my experiences with money and why making a comment about “just take out a loan” can be hurtful. (You can only take out a loan if you have a good credit score and aren’t at high financial risk. Not everyone can take out large loans needed for houses and some colleges).

Another good thing is that people are willing to acknowledge the diversity of classes on campus and talk about inequity. I talked to an alumni near my house over Thanksgiving who said nobody talked about their family income back in the 1990s. Even Dean Lopez, my first-year seminar professor and Dean of New Students who has been under fire recently for signing a letter to stop low-income housing, has been happy that people are now talking about socio-economic inequity. Though, he is not thrilled that he is being portrayed by the media in a rather negative light. Dean Lopez is connected with the Meiklejohn Fellowship Program I am a part of that provides career and summer internship advising for high-achieving, low-income students on campus. Not only has this given me lots of resources and has helped me connect with alums in fields I am interested in, I also have a stipend for an unpaid summer internship that will likely allow me to work a lab this summer.

The fellowship is one example of the incredible resources available specifically for low-income students on campus. The  Center for Diversity and Student Leadership also helps low-income/first-generation students (FLI students). There are likely even more resources available to me that I just haven’t explored yet, but luckily, there are many people on this campus supporting me and willing to help me get the support I need to succeed.

Summertime in November??

Sometimes it is difficult to process all the amazing resources available at Amherst. I’ve spent the past week trying to figure out what resources are available to help me find an internship this summer. Yes, it does seem very early to be doing this. Thinking about summertime in November? Wack.

The thing is, many STEM internships start becoming available right around now, so I want to get a head start at look at what opportunities are available in order to narrow down the places I want to apply to. On Wednesday, I went to a program put on by the Charles Hamilton Houston Internship Program that was titled “Summer Internships 101.” This was very useful in simply defining what an internship is and informing me about the importance of setting criteria for the internship. I realized that location, skills I can learn, and the quality of work that I’m doing matter a lot to me. This also introduced me to the Houston Program that provides paid summer internships that have been verified by the college as good experiences. These summer internships are only accessible to Amherst students, so they are not as competitive to get as some largely publicized internships are. Then, if you are able to get the internship, you are guaranteed to be paid and it will likely be an informative experience.

I was also able to meet with Dean Aronson, the pre-health advisor, in the LOEB center to talk about finding internships this summer that could help prepare me for medical school. He suggested looking at the Amherst College Alumni directory, and boy, am I so grateful he did. First of all, the sheer number of people on that directory is wild for such a small school. Additionally, you can find alums by searching by name, region, or job description. I was literally able to narrow my search to those doing STEM research on Cape Cod. Then, I was able to find the email addresses and lots of other information about the alums that helped me reach out to them. Over Thanksgiving, I am going to be able to meet with two of them!

The alums I have reached out to have been so enthusiastic and excited to talk to me about their work and experiences; it is truly incredible. I remember being told how invested Amherst alums are to this school, but the fact that alums are willing to let me go to their work or grab coffee with them during their lunch break is amazing.  Johnson Chapel at Sunset

I know I am still not fully aware of all the resources Amherst has to offer, but I am sure I will learn more and more over time. I also know that there are plenty of people to reach out to when I have questions and everyone on campus is so helpful at directing me to the right person. At Amherst, you really just need to ask for help and you will receive it. It is pretty incredible. Tonight, I sat on the first-year quad looking at JChap and the sunset simply taking in how lucky I am to be at this school.

Busy Bee (What else is new?)

If you’re thinking of applying to Amherst, almost one thing is certain: you’re a busy person. I’m sure you have told someone in your life, “I’m sorry I can’t. I have ____.” For me in high school, that was crew. Now, I can’t even name one thing. I have a strange mix of lots of free time (since college classes do not meet nearly as frequently as high school classes) and yet lots of things going on. Some of this is work that needs to get done. Homework, office hours, meetings. However, other things can come up when I’m just hanging out with friends and someone mentions something. 

For example, today I was walking to lunch and the club Random Acts of Kindness had baby animals outside of Val! It was a nice break in between classes and luckily, Amherst is full of small things like this. Almost every weekend, a club will put on a dance in the Powerhouse which can be a fun way to destress on a Friday night after a long week. Sometimes there will be events like Farm Fest that happened a few weeks ago. I was working for catering during that event; however, I got to eat fresh food that comes from the farm while saying hi to friends and serving everyone dessert (it was an apple/blueberry crisp and let me just say, it was fantastic). Thus, while life at Amherst can be hectic and there can be lots of work, the college provides incredible opportunities to relax and have fun. And the good thing is, these things are not mandatory in any way. You would rather take a nap than stop by and say hi to the animals? That’s fine! No one will judge you. In fact, I think I can speak for most Amherst students by saying we’re jealous and wish we could take a nap in the middle of the day.

There are also specific activities that clubs put on. As a member of ACDems, I spent my Sunday evening calling voters in Kentucky trying to get them to vote on Tuesday and provided them with information regarding where to go vote. Andy Beshear (D) beat out Matt Devin (R), the incumbent governor, by roughly 4,800 votes. That means, the 239 calls to voters we made Sunday could have actually made a big difference. It’s crazy to think that a college student could make a difference in something like an election for governor, however, Amherst gives students almost anything they ask for in order to help achieve their goals. Another example was when the college also allowed us to have a Climate Strike back in September in order to fight the climate crisis. Students showed up with signs on first-year quad (see below) and we attending teach-ins that even professors took part in. There’s never a dull moment at Amherst and if you want something to happen, you most likely can make it happen yourself or find someone who can make it happen.

Farm Festival

Learning my ABCs

Okay, so waking up at 6am on a Saturday is never ideal, but last Saturday it was definitely worth it. The women’s frisbee team had a tournament starting at around 8:45 am at Wellesley College, so we needed to get up bright and early to be there on time. We met up at 6:30 in Val (which was rather ironic because Val, our dining hall, doesn’t open until 8am on weekends), then split up into cars driven by various team members. Sadly, first-years can’t have cars on campus, so it was all upperclassmen driving. 

Of course the first day of winter decided to come early and the car was covered in frost (no, not like the library). That brings me to the first thing I learned that day: your keycard can be used to scrape the frost off the windows of a car. Very useful knowledge if you live in the Northeast. Once we could see out the windows, we got to stop at Dunkin Donuts. As you can imagine, I got a very healthy pre-tournament meal. Though let me tell you, I had no idea how much exercise I would be getting that day. If I had known, I would have gone for something a bit healthier than munchkins.

When we got to Wellesley, we were running a bit late and the other teams decided to start playing early, so we did not get much of a warm up. We jumped right in with 7 people on the line, ready to play defense. I was in the second round to go out and wow, was I lost. I think it’s important to note I had only ever done drills at practice, so I had never even played an actual game of ultimate frisbee. Yet there I was, playing in 4 different games throughout the day and learning the rules of the game as we went.

Luckily before you start playing, you can talk to the other 6 people on the line to figure out what your strategy is. Through this, I was able to ask questions and find out basic strategies for the game. Over time, I picked up more and more rules of the game and understood the difference between terms such as vertical and horizontal stacking. One thing I learned quickly is that I need to invest in cleats because sprinting in sneakers on grass does not work well. I fell on my face many times, but everyone on the field, both on my team and opposing teams, always asked if I was ok. Our first game against Wellesley we won roughly 6-3 which essentially means it was a rough game with no half-time. Next, we faced Tufts, a school that is very good and we proceed to lose against. Though in that game I learned lesson number 3: being tall in frisbee helps so much. Being tall, you can jump up and catch the frisbee much more easily. We then went on to face Smith and won, then our final game hit close to home. We were facing UMass Amherst, a school known for having a great team and being down the street from us.

One thing I learned I love about frisbee is the team spirit and chants that everyone has. Before the game against UMass, we huddled up and broke off into pairs of people. One pair started singing the ABCs, then the next group would start once the first group got to C and so on until we were all jumping around, yelling the ABCs. We probably looked ridiculous and since you weren’t there, you likely think we are a crazy group of nerds. And listen, we kinda are, but that was so much fun and that little chant bonded us so well that we ended up being tied against UMass until the very end when they took the last point.

So while I learned the ABCs of the game, I also got to bond with my team over singing the ABCs and had a wonderful Saturday that I will never forget.

Ultimate Frisbee

Adjusting and Fitting In

Every since I was little, I have been painfully aware that everyone has “their thing.” For some people it’s soccer, others it’s theatre or painting. Everyone wants to find something they enjoy and that they’re good at, but this activity (or activities) has become a defining feature of the person. When parents talk about their kids, they will often mention their achievements in sports or the arts. When students talk about classmates we will often clarify who we’re talking about by mentioning, “Oh yeah, he’s the football player.” When we’re older, our careers usually tend to define us. “Oh, she’s a doctor.”

I’ve put pressure on myself at Amherst to find my “thing.” In high school, I defined myself as a rower. I was proud of what I had accomplished and all the time and effort I dedicated to the sport. So, coming to Amherst, I felt like I had to row here too. I gave it a try, rowing with the team for a month. However, the commitment began to consume my life, leaving me no time to try other activities or hang out with friends who were not on the team. Adjusting to the rigorous academics as well as the sport where we worked out 3+ hours 6 days a week was just too much for me. So, I made the difficult decision to quit. I was afraid of not having that team anymore, of not having the sport I was so familiar with. However, I’m so glad I did it.

Now, I have more free time to meet new people and explore new activities. Right now, I don’t really feel like I fit into one specific activity and that I’m just sort of drifting around. However, I’ve had the opportunity to get a job called Reader to Reader where I get to read a book with elementary school students and to share my love of reading. I’ve gotten to try sailing, ultimate frisbee, and running with friends. I've been able to participate in things I think are important like the Climate Strike on campus (see photo below). I’ve gotten to go to more club meetings and really explore my interests. I feel less stressed academically and have more time to just relax or hang out with friends. It was a tough decision to make, but I don’t regret doing it.

Climate Strike

Ultimately, freshman year is a time to focus on yourself and adjusting. You don’t have to commit to one activity you did in high school just to “fit in.” Be adventurous. Try new things. You’ll meet new people along the way and will probably end up happier than if you just simply stuck with what you know.

Curious about what clubs are on campus? Check out the Hub at https://thehub.amherst.edu!

Moving In & Settling Down

Chaos. That’s what I expected moving into college and starting orientation. However, that is not what I received on a chilly Tuesday morning in August. My family insisted on being early, so of course we showed up half an hour before anyone else. But even then, campus was buzzing as the orientation leaders and other students got excited to welcome the Class of 2023.

As soon as my family pulled up onto the grass, students came up to help bring my luggage into my new home. They smiled genuinely and actually want to know stuff about me. They asked my name, pronouns, where I was from, my favorite type of potato (sweet potato, in case you’re wondering). At first, it felt strange. A bit like an interrogation. But, everyone was so kind and was truly interested in getting to know me, I quickly felt at ease. Even three weeks later, I’m still meeting new people who show that same genuine smile and interest in getting to know me.

Orientation was wonderful since it was mostly just first-years on campus. What was even better was the first weekend. The first weekend of college can be rough for some students because it is your first weekend away from home and at college. There can be immense sadness and homesickness as I learned from friends at other colleges. However, that is not the case for most people at Amherst (or at least not for me and my friends). Everyone signs up for a LEAP (learn, explore, activate, and participate) program, and the weekend becomes full of activities.

My LEAP trip focused on social justice and leadership. We spent the weekend at a YMCA an hour away from campus out in the woods, and it has been my favorite experience at Amherst so far. We were able to learn new terminology and had deep discussions involving inequities in the US from race to socioeconomic status to gender identity to citizenship and everything in between. It was really a time to get to know others and their identities. We had caucus groups where people with the same identity could just sit and talk to one another. We played a game like musical chairs except you had to race to find a chair if you shared the same experience as someone else.

And tbh, that stuff got real. There were tears involved. However, the tears were mutual as you realized that you were not alone in your struggles. For me, that is how friendships are formed. Through those deep conversations that I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s kinda weird to go up to someone and say “oh, are you a low-income woman from a family of immigrants, too?” No one shares those deeply personal things normally, so I think that really sets the stage for the year to come and helped me make friends who will stick for the next four years and, hopefully, for life. Oh, and the canoeing and s’mores weren’t bad either!