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Imposter Syndrome: Coping with It as a College Student

Imposter Syndrome: Coping with It as a College Student


By Loren Germann-McClain
Senior Academic Advisor II, School of STEM, APUS

If you have ever had the feeling that you do not belong in college, you are undeserving of your accomplishments, and they happen due to luck and not by merit, know you are not alone. This feeling is called impostor syndrome, which is also known as the imposter phenomenon or impostorism.

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At its core, imposter syndrome is about your inability to accurately self-assess your performance. As a result, your self-confidence and self-efficacy is diminished.

According to an article published in the “International Journal of Behavioral Science,” an estimated 70% of people experience the feelings associated with imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. But there are a few ways to alleviate its negative effects on you.

Talk about Your Feelings

Sometimes you need to talk through your worries out loud. Consider setting aside some time to talk about your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, relative, or academic advisor. Being able to discuss your feelings also helps identify why you consider yourself an impostor.

Remember, it is okay not to be the best at something. Comparing yourself to others, while that can be a motivator for some people, can also force you to distance yourself from your accomplishments.

You have worked hard to earn good grades in your classes and pass your courses. Be proud of your accomplishments and yourself!

Consider the Context of Any Mistakes

Everyone has moments of self-doubt. You can never be 100% confident in yourself at all times. If you would consider something a small mistake when someone else does it, then it is not a big failure when you do it.

The same goes for successes. The value of your success is not weighed by how easy the task was. Value each success for what it is – a success, no matter how big or small it may be.

Reframe Your Way of Thinking When It Comes to Setbacks

Are you extrinsically or intrinsically motivated? Knowing how you are motivated also plays a role in understanding how to reframe your way of thinking.

For instance, extrinsically motivated people focus on the reasons why they do the work, rather than the work itself. It may be because they will be recognized for their accomplishments or perhaps their motivation is a financial bonus at the end of the quarter.

Intrinsically motivated people do the work exclusively because they enjoy the work. For them, it is not a matter of receiving an accolade later on.

Regardless if you are extrinsically or intrinsically motivated, understanding why and how you are motivated will aid you in reassessing why a particular setback weighs on you. Those considerations will allow you to get back on the track to success.

Review Your Accomplishments

When you perceive yourself to be inadequate, oftentimes you are not giving yourself the credit you deserve. Our perception of ourselves is built on a foundation of how we assume others see our work and us.

Take the necessary time to review your accomplishments. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I happy with the work I did?
  • Am I happy with the outcome?
  • What can I do differently next time?

These questions focus on your thoughts and feelings towards your work and accomplishments. The final question is actionable; figure out what did not work and what you can change the next time. Then, do it.

Review your goals and accomplishments frequently; self-affirmation can help minimize the negative feeling that you do not belong in school. You may never entirely overcome the feelings associated with imposter syndrome, but being able to speak freely about your experience with it can aid in understanding how to combat it.

About the Author

Loren Germann-McClain is currently in her second year as a Senior Academic Advisor with the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at American Public University System. She holds an M.A. in English – Rhetoric and Composition from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, as well as an M.A. in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University.

Loren previously worked in human resources and public relations at a public library in Indiana, where she helped develop a project to bring mental health first aid and awareness to public and academic libraries across the state. She has earned grants to help develop coding programs for school-age children and develop free, extracurricular activities to help align with the Indiana State standards for computer science, technology, and coding. Her work has helped empower Hoosier students to be equipped with the critical and computational problem-solving skills they will need in order to succeed in a digitally powered and ever-evolving world. 



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