Students at Amherst come from diversely different backgrounds. We have students from Egypt, South Korea, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Nepal, and more. We have students who attended charter schools, public schools, private schools, international schools, and magnet schools. We have students who are the first to attend college in their families and students whose great-great-grandfather went to Amherst. The diversity at Amherst is limitless, and I'm sure the more I pick apart the student body, the more differences I am bound to find.
But regardless of where everybody came from, we were all accomplished students in high school to some degree or another. I still remember my freshmen orientation last year when the Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Katharine Fretwell, listed the empirical statistics of students who were entering college in my class. Many were valedictorians at their respective high schools, one was an internationally ranked table tennis player, and couple students were already published authors.
So, when these valedictorians, authors, table tennis experts, accomplished athletes, and musicians all come together to a small liberal arts school in Western Massachusetts, you will be pushed out of your comfort zone to a place that has been uncharted prior to your arrival at Amherst. Simply speaking, there will be a time when you experience failure and inadequacy. I got less than 50% on my first-ever chemistry quiz I took at Amherst. And for someone who easily navigated through high school academics and received high scores on majority of the tests, I was devastated by the paltry numerical value assigned to my chemistry test score.
I think it's taken me my entire first year to take a step back and realize just how incubated I have become in this academic environment. Before I go on, I wouldn't categorize Amherst as being a competitive environment; rather, it's a place where (at least for me) everybody seems to be doing everything on campus. But we have to realize that this sort of internal strife incurs because of how academically reputable Amherst is compared to other colleges.
We were all big fishes in high school, but once we entered college, we realize that all the other fishes are just as big as yourself. So, inevitably, there will come a time where we feel inadequate in college compared to who we were before college. But I think that's the reason why we deliberately choose to attend college: to push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and embrace what college and life can offer to us.
I think once I got used to this mindset, I converted my feelings of inadequacy to opportunities for growth and self-introspection. I came to college planning to take pre-med requirement classes, but I am now a mathematics and history double major (so completely unrelated to my previous plan). Because I allowed myself to reflect on what I enjoy and because Amherst provides the liberty for students to pursue their interest, I feel like I've come out of my freshmen year as a more wholesome person.
So, if you are reading my post, keep in mind that feeling inadequate at college is completely normal - in fact, even welcomed. The question is what you do with that feeling of inadequacy.