It’s not the academics, and it wasn’t getting in. It’s feeling like you belong. When I enrolled at my school, I knew I should expect challenge, competition, and academic rigor. After all, my school is one of the top 3 liberal arts colleges in the country, and the acceptance rate was 19% the year I got in. I was one of the top 10 students at my high school, so I started college pretty confident. But after only my first week of classes, I felt inadequate. I felt like I didn’t belong there! My classmates were smart, a lot smarter than me, I thought. I was tentative to speak up in classes in which I felt I was way behind the other students. I remember one class in particular: Intro to American Politics. Several of my classmates seemed to know EVERYTHING about the American political system, and many of them had experience working on political campaigns. Heck, one of my classmates whipped out her phone one day and showed me a picture of her with Ted Cruz! I dreaded going to those lectures because I always felt like I was at a disadvantage and if I said the wrong thing, everyone would think I was an idiot. I experienced even greater feelings of inadequacy when everyone around me started receiving their summer internship/job offers. My closest friends (who also happened to be freshmen) received high-paying offers in tech, pharmacy, and finance, while I was planning to work at an arts education nonprofit. I felt like everyone was 10 leagues ahead of me.
I’m not the only one who has felt behind at school. Impostor syndrome is a real thing, and it’s an epidemic among college students. Fortunately, I’ve discovered some great ways to combat it. There’s nothing better than feeling empowered to succeed and confident in your own skin! Unless you literally lied on your college application, you 100% deserve to be at your school. You earned the opportunity to attend, now own it! School became much more enjoyable once I stopped feeding into the lie that I didn’t deserve to be there. I stopped dreading going to class, speaking up, and making myself VULNERABLE by being my authentic self. I’m happy to say that I finally feel worthy of my place at the college, and I now feel more motivated than ever to succeed in such a competitive environment. If you’re battling impostor syndrome, feelings of inadequacy, or general academic-related insecurities, this guide can help you out. Here’s how to banish your self-doubt and feel a million times more confident and deserving:
- Remember that you earned your spot: Think about all the work you put in to get into your school. You worked hard for your grades. You took all those loathsome standardized tests and stayed balanced with extracurriculars and volunteering! Think about it: you had a goal, and you accomplished it. Of the many many applicants, the admissions committee picked YOU because they recognized your potential and abilities. Think about the joy you felt when you received that acceptance letter, and think about how on-top-of-the-world you felt the day of your high school graduation! You had places to go. Don’t psych yourself out now that you’re here!
- Talk about your feelings with others: Be vulnerable and tell someone else how you’re feeling. I told my sophomore friend that I felt like I was behind everyone else in certain classes. I felt so relieved after our conversation. She told me that everyone feels like a bit of an impostor their first year, and there are lots of people who continue to feel that way throughout college. She also told me, to my surprise, that a lot of the people who seem like they know it all are actually just faking it like everybody else! We’re all trying our best here.
- Look inward to discover the root causes: Why do you feel insecure? Asking yourself that one question is key to casting away all self-doubt. Be honest with yourself. Do you feel inadequate because you were the smartest person at your high school and now everyone is equally intelligent? Do you feel like you’re at a disadvantage because you relied on natural intelligence in high school and now you’re struggling to develop study habits? Deep down, do you just not see yourself as an intelligent, hardworking person with high potential? Once you understand your feelings, you can reason with yourself, counter negative thoughts, and move past them.
- Allow your peers to motivate you: Rather than feeling threatened by your peers, be inspired and learn something from them! If you admire the way your classmate always speaks her mind, follow her example and try to do more of that yourself! If you like the way your classmate approaches challenging calc problems, pay attention to how he works. You could even ask him to join your study group.
- Remember that there’s a plan for everyone: Your journey is going to differ from your best friend’s. There is no one-size-fits-all route to success! It’s easy to compare yourself to another student and think wow, she’s already done so much and I haven’t even started! Don’t let your mind go there! You have time to make your mark. Opportunities that are right for somebody else might not be ideal for you. Remember that everyone has their own strengths, skills, and passions. Naturally, these differences result in different accomplishments and professional paths. Any time that you invest in discovering what you’re good at and what you love will pay dividends.