Dear Excited Yet Nervous Freshman,
You’ve worked for this moment your entire life, and it’s finally here. Standing in the halls of academia you experience euphoria. The marble columns and founder’s statue gazing down on you, you feel peace at last. Your war of work is finally over, with you claiming victory. But as you enter the first week of classes, surprised over and over again with the grandeur of university, another feeling snakes its way into your mind, attaching itself with every single thought and feeling you have. The pride you once had slowly seeps away, quickened by failure in your first exam, leaving behind the now writhing snakes of impostor syndrome.
Characterized by fraudulent feelings regarding accomplishments and talent, impostor syndrome is a shadowy figure, never leaving one’s side and never really talked about. As you listen to all your peers boast of their seemingly superhuman accomplishments, you begin to feel as if you do not belong. Your recognition of sweat and tears regarding all it took to get into this college becomes a feeling of regret. Why didn’t you do more? You feel small and subpar compared to your classmates, who you feel have actually changed the world while you simply just tried. You listen to students who have had generations upon generations of family come to this same institution. For a moment you forget your parent’s sacrifice in getting you into a country that enables you to get a world class education and defy all odds to achieve success, an innermost part of you wishing you could brag about having lineage that was educated in prestige. When you do not do as well as you have hoped in an exam, that is when impostor syndrome can root itself. You were accepted into this college, yet you feel as though you cannot measure up to the other students. And now it is clear: you cannot achieve success in an institution as challenging as this one. But then you must ask yourself: Why did this college accept you? Have they truly made a mistake in doing so?
The answer is simple and clear. You belong in this college. Your portfolio was picked out of dozens of others and regarded with interest by an admissions officer. They have not made a mistake. Because like your peers who have superhuman accomplishments, you showed a potential to succeed. Your upbringing or background, whether in a life of privilege and hardship, are not indicators of your ability to succeed. You may feel that your accomplishments may not measure up to others, but you don’t realize that you are extraordinary.
The problem with comparing yourself to others is that you compare the outcome, never the circumstances. You’ll wonder why you never accomplished things that others have but you never examine the circumstances they were in vs. the ones that you were in. Some people in life will be given more, therefore potentially achieving more. What you have to realize is that given your unique circumstances, you are extraordinary. You took what you were given and changed it all for the better through hard work, sleepless nights, and a lot of uncertainty and potential for failure. And that is what your college saw in you. They saw your impact and your ability to change the world around you for the better. They saw your hunger for knowledge and your drive for success, but not without some failure. Which brings me to my next point: Failure on a test, quiz, or even a class when you worked hard means nothing on your part.
College is a huge step to take, no matter where you come from. While some schools attempt to prepare you for college with preparatory programs, college is still a surprise to all those who are new to it. So many factors in your life will change, including your living situation, the academic intensity of your classes, and the overall environment around you. That is why failure, while unmotivating, is bound to happen. You may struggle in a part of your college life.
Adjusting is hard, and sometimes change is beneficial. Even though you studied your hardest and still failed that exam, you can still achieve success by something as simple as changing your study schedule and seeking out your professor during office hours to explain the homework. Maybe it’s developing a written schedule to help you get in the habit of living alone for the first time. Whatever the failure is, it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is truly just a learning experience that will help you grow.
As a college freshman myself, I am still learning and growing. Every day I find out something new. This piece is obviously incomplete and will remain so because every single day brings its own challenges and victories. I wrote this because I wanted to provide the freshman perspective, to be in the middle of the struggle. While reading several success stories written by people who have progressed past this part of their lives helped, I wanted to read more perspectives of those still working through imposter syndrome. I struggle with impostor syndrome, whether it was going to a PWI for high school or being in college and having that impostor syndrome root itself even deeper. Sometimes I sit and wonder if they really did make a mistake and feeling like I don’t measure up to others. But at the end of the day it’s important to stop comparing yourself and just take a look at your own accomplishments and how you changed the world around you. Because you are a force to be reckoned with. You might just not know it yet.