Four Ways to Fight Impostor Syndrome in College

Edited by: Vasudha Malani UG 2019

When I joined Ashoka, I found myself on a campus surrounded by school captains, toppers, and professional MUNners. Everyone spouted fancy theoretical terms, posted profound questions on Piazza, and said amazing things in every class. On the other hand, whatever I did or said sounded very basic and childish, and I began to wonder if I was just stupid. I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough to be here, and I didn’t deserve the admission offer. I felt like a fraud, and experienced something known as Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome is a feeling of insecurity, the feeling that your achievements are not because of your skills and qualifications, rather a result of chance. You may feel like a ‘fraud’, and that you’re not good enough to be where you are today. This can affect anyone, from successful professionals to college students. As a college student, you may worry that you’re not smart enough to be here, that you don’t deserve to take part in the academic culture dominated by overachievers, especially if you consider yourself an ‘average’ student, as I did.

 

We’ve all been there at some point in our lives. Whether it was in school, college, cultural, or sports events, there has always been a moment or two where we’ve paused and asked ourselves, “Do I really deserve this? Am I good enough for this? There are so many people better than me, so why was I chosen?” It’s not a good thing to feel, and it’s important to combat this experience before it gets worse.

Here are four ways to combat impostor syndrome while you’re in college:

  1. 1. Get To Know Your Peers

    You may worry that your classmates are a million times brighter than you, and they instantly know things without worrying, while you have to slog it out for hours without understanding anything. But the more you hang out with them and the more you work together (even on the dreaded group projects), you’ll realize that they do worry and work hard. They too take time to understand concepts, and they have doubts as well. It’s important to bust the myth that your peers are flawless, and that they have their own insecurities. Who knows, maybe the person who speaks the most in class feels like an impostor as well! You’ll find that you’re not the only one who has these doubts, and that the feeling is normal.    
  2. 2. Speak to your Professors

    Time Magazine writes that those “who have more experience can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal.” Your professors see your work from a different point of view than you do. They have years of experience working in the same field, and they can see your academic and personal growth, even if you can’t. Talk to them, and they will definitely help put things into perspective. When I had these feelings of not being good enough, I spoke to one of my professors, explaining that my comments in class didn’t feel as ‘smart’ as the ones others were making. Interestingly, my professor remarked that they’d had many other students come up to them and say the exact same thing, and actually, my posts and discussions were quite good. Again, the feeling of not being the only one with these worries can be reassuring, especially if you talk to a trusted senior figure who knows your work well.
  3. 3. Trust the Admissions Team

    Look, those of us in college are little more than kids. We’re only in our late teens or early twenties, fresh out of school. We actually know very little about the world, and about human nature and potential. The Admissions Committee, on the other hand, has far more experience than we do. They’ve met thousands and thousands of students before us, and know what to look for. They saw something in you, even if you couldn’t see it yourself, and that is why they said they wanted you on this campus. If you’re like me, thinking that you didn’t have a CV or a fat folder of inter-school event certificates on your lap on the day of the interview, listen to my mother’s advice. When I confided in her, saying that I wasn’t as skilled or successful, she said that the others may have had lots of achievements, “but the admissions team chose you.” Trust the people who made the decision; they obviously had a good reason for doing so, and they believe in you.
  4. 4. Be gentle with yourself

    This is the most important of them all. Give yourself time to settle in and find your rhythm at college. It’s totally normal if you don’t hand in 100% perfect 3000-word papers on the very first day. Maybe you’ll fumble in class, maybe you’ll make a mistake in an assignment. And that’s okay. Forgive yourself for any mistakes you’ve made. Allow yourself to grow and improve, and don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect all the time. You’re a human being who is learning something new every day. After some years, you’ll realize how far you’ve come since your first week on campus. It will take time to stop feeling like a ‘fraud’. It may take months or even years. But it will happen. The more you grow and learn, and if you continue to be the best version of yourself, the closer you will come to shaking off that feeling, and the next time you have a chance to take an opportunity, you might just have a different experience.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list. There are many more ways to defeat the feeling of not deserving this chance at a good education, and it differs from person to person. That being said, these four ways can make you feel better, and motivate you to keep working and plodding along, so that you use this opportunity to the best of your ability, and feel less like a fraud and more like a capable student who’s going to do their best.

Good luck!