You got into your dream graduate program, but shortly after unpacking your things, that feeling of excitement leaches out of you. The first week of classes comes and goes, and you look around at a sea of unfamiliar faces, confident students strutting across campus to the library or making great strides on their lab research. By the middle of the second week, you are beginning to feel nervous, even frightened. It dawns on you. There must have been some kind of mistake. You don’t belong here. These classes are way harder than you thought. Everyone else understands what is going on. You are going to fail!
If you are a new graduate student and the above story hits a nerve, don’t panic. There is a name for this feeling: Imposter Syndrome. This term was coined in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, two American psychologists. Imposter Syndrome refers to an overwhelming feeling that despite all of your accomplishments and talents, your success was the result of luck, timing or something else that you had no control of. You compare yourself to the outward appearance of others and assume you are falling behind, or worse, doomed to flounder. You are a fraud.
You are not alone. Clearly, if professional psychologists named the phenomenon decades ago and published an article on the topic, it is a common state of mind for even the most successful people. The good news is that there are ways to climb out of this self-inflicted rabbit hole. Try to remember:
There are some concrete actions you can take to help:
Your feelings are perfectly natural. Give yourself some time to adjust to your new environment, faces, friendships and challenges. Try not to make any conclusions about your situation until at least a full quarter or semester. By the time winter break rolls around, you may very well feel like a new and confident person.
As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.