Skip to content
Home » All Posts » How to overcome imposter syndrome in college

How to overcome imposter syndrome in college

University of the Pacfic students talking on campus.

You may have caught yourself thinking, “One mistake and everyone will know that I have no idea what I am doing!” 

Imposter syndrome is a common feeling among high-achieving individuals—even people you would never suspect suffer from self-doubt. 

In an opinion piece in  Newsweek magazine, Pacific alumnus and NASA astronaut Jose Hernandez described how inadequate he felt when he was accepted into America’s space program. 

“Even as I wore the blue uniform and underwent rigorous training, a nagging voice in the back of my mind questioned whether I truly belonged among these remarkable individuals,” Hernandez wrote. 

If astronauts can feel that way, it won’t surprise you to know that imposter syndrome is common among college students as well. According to a 2019 study at Brigham Young University, 20% of college students have experienced it.  

Five types of imposter syndrome

Valerie Young, an internationally recognized expert on imposter syndrome, has identified five types of imposter syndrome: 

  1. The Perfectionist: You believe that unless you are perfect, you could have done better. Your perfectionist traits convince you that you’re not as good as others might think you are. 
  2. The Expert: When you don’t know everything there is to know about a particular subject or topic, or you haven’t mastered every step in the process, you feel like a fraud. 
  3. The Natural Genius: You might feel like an imposter because you don’t believe that you are naturally intelligent or competent. If you struggle to get something right the first time, or it takes you longer to master a skill, you feel like an imposter. 
  4. The Soloist: Sometimes you might feel like a fraud because you had to ask for help to reach a certain level of status. Due to not being able to get there on your own, you question your own skills and abilities.
  5. The Superperson: You believe that unless you are the hardest worker or reach the absolute pinnacle of success possible, you will have failed and will be shown to be a fraud. 

How do you know if you have imposter syndrome?

Some common presentations include: 

  • Worrying about or overestimating how much time others spend thinking about you 
  • Failing to recognize your own successes and focusing on setbacks or negative experiences 
  • High stress and increased anxiety for no identifiable reason 
  • Despite successes, still worrying or fearing that others will find out that you are a fraud 

How to get over imposter syndrome

  • Share your feelings
    • Talking to other people about how you are feeling and sharing your irrational beliefs prevents them from festering and allows you to get in-the-moment feedback that might challenge some of your doubts. Be strategic about the people you share with; venting to trusted individuals who are not peers can provide a more helpful picture of your accomplishments and values. 
  • Let go of perfectionism
    • Adjusting your standards for success can make it easier to see and internalize your accomplishments. This doesn’t mean you are lowering the bar; you are focusing on your progress rather than aiming for perfection.  

      Also, when you don’t meet your standards, it does not mean that you have failed! Reframe “failures” as opportunities to learn and grow. Adopting a growth mindset will help release you from rigid standards and reduce your imposter syndrome significantly.
  • Celebrate your successes
    • Imposter syndrome makes it easy to brush off your successes and chalk them up to luck or fortune, instead of your effort and skill. Taking time to applaud yourself, even for the smallest win, can help you internalize your success. 
  • Accept it
    • As you continue to work through imposter syndrome, it may still show up, but you will be more effective in working with it instead of fighting against it and/or believing it completely.  

      It’s common for imposter syndrome to arise when there is a shift: high school to college, lower level to upper-level classes, undergraduate to graduate, internship to career, etc. We are always going to be faced with new experiences or roles, and it is more likely that imposter syndrome will come out during these times. It’s good to recognize that, even if you are making progress in overcoming imposter syndrome, these things may come up again. It’s not a failure if feelings and thoughts of imposter syndrome arise; it’s a reminder that you’re human! 

You can overcome imposter syndrome and realize you are worthy of your achievements. Hernandez says that in time, he was able to cope with his imposter syndrome and even regarded it as a positive sign.

“I came to understand that this feeling was not unique to me, that even the most accomplished individuals wrestle with it, and it was a testament to my drive for continuous growth,” he wrote.

If you are interested in learning more about the services that Pacific’s Counseling and Psychological Services, you can call our front desk at 209.946.2315 x2.  

Additionally, please follow us on Instagram @PacificCAPS to receive daily mental health tips.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *