On Underachieving

Inspired by Alyssa’s blog about the differences between high school and college. Especially her spot-on #1, living off campus means my life is spent walking walking walking.


Fact: I was an underachiever in high school. This is a pretty rare characteristic among Hopkins students; I don’t think I’ve met a single friend here who can’t tell a story of caffeine-driven high school research papers or insane tests.

I was undeniably an underachiever in high school, but I also graduated in style with a valedictory speech and a perfect GPA. I was a speech state finalist. I played violin in a university orchestra. I had six letters to show off from volleyball and swimming. The list goes on.

Deceptive high school accomplishment collage?
Deceptive high school accomplishment collage?

However.

That valedictorian speech? I wrote it in less than two hours.

Since math homework was optional at CHS (yeah, crazy), I did not complete one single math problem set ever.

I only skimmed or read Sparknotes for every single book assigned to me in English class.

I’d answer one or two questions on physics finals because I knew I only needed a mid-range F to get my A in the class.

I never paid any mind to academic argument; my naturally flowery writing always covered up the unread books, the shaky understandings of chemistry.

I was an underachiever in high school because I did not need to try. The standards of my underfunded rural public high school were low enough that I could completely disengage. I hated it, I thought the lack of challenge was suffocating. So, I applied to the hardest colleges I could think of. I saw Johns Hopkins as a place where I would need to produce genuinely original work, something that was never asked of me at CHS. I knew it would be hard, so I accepted my admissions offer.

I was right. All I could ever think during my freshman year was Hopkins is so hard.

Okay, three years later. Some days, it’s still an adjustment. Two weeks ago, I was reviewing for my Foreign Policy midterm and I kept catching myself glossing over material. I had to repeatedly remind myself that it was going to be a serious test, that I had to know every concept. My default is to question the point of studying hard. This blog is being posted in the middle of the night because procrastination was once acceptable. There are days when I still struggle to balance old-Amy habits with college expectations.

I still scoff at how impractical it is to spend hours learning tiny details of Wilsonian democracy. But I actually have to learn the stuff, now that I’m in college. I do the readings. I don’t turn in rough drafts. I engage.

In class this week, I had an unironically excited conversation about dependent clauses with a professor. That’s not something I could pretend as a high school student. I was only able to have that so academic moment because I poured myself into the homework and reading. Caring and paying attention matters, it’s better than the very high school alternative.

I have to try here. I want to try here. That’s the big difference between JHU and CHS for me, and I’m grateful for it.

(Most days)

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