How to work through doubts and imposter syndrome as an incoming Wildcat


Illustration by Angeli Mittal

Here’s some tips on how to deal with imposter syndrome.

Sammi Boas, Senior Staffer

Between a photo booth strip from my high school prom and a gym schedule that hosts all the stickers I’ve acquired throughout college, there are two purple Post-it Notes on the corkboard that hangs over my desk.

I have three pieces of advice written on those notes, things that I need a regular reminder of. Two of those messages help me deal with my imposter syndrome. Despite this, I don’t think I’m qualified to give advice on imposter syndrome. Ironic, huh? But those two reminders help me work through it, and they’re the best pieces of advice I can give to anyone with the nagging feeling that they don’t belong at Northwestern.

1. You’re meant to be here

When I got into NU, I had many doubts. Out of all the qualified applicants, I wasn’t sure what made me stand out. Why did I deserve the opportunity to go to such a great school? Why did I get that opportunity when others with similar grades and experiences did not?

Beyond admissions, I was uncertain about what my life would look like on campus. My expectations of NU were so absurd. I was expecting to get no sleep because I would be studying all the time. Who in the admissions office thought I could handle that? That’s not who I am.

As I was worrying over these doubts and questions, I received a simple text message from my mom: “You’re meant to be here.” I know that when you’re doubting yourself, it’s hard to believe that you’re meant to be anywhere, but the advice should ring true.

I find a lot of comfort in believing that everything that happens is meant to happen. Operating under this mindset, I was able to believe that I am meant to be at NU. Let me talk you through it.

As hard as it can be to believe, you got accepted to NU. That is based on merit. No one in the admission office sent you the wrong envelope. By accepting your admission, you chose NU to be the next home for you. The reasons people choose colleges are complicated, but ultimately you felt like NU fit you in some way. Not everyone can say that. Through that sense of fit, you’re acknowledging that NU is a place you’re meant to be.

Once I realized NU was where I was supposed to be, the next challenge was to do my best not to compare myself to my peers. That takes me to my second Post-it Note message.

2. There are no rules as to what’s best for you

The University gathers students who seem to be doing it all. Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like there are enough hours in the day or cups of coffee to do what the average Northwestern student is doing. For me, that makes me feel like I’m falling behind.

In order to counter that little voice in my head, I had to learn — and am still learning — that these people who seem to be doing everything are not me. Everyone has different limits, interests and capacities. It’s easy to create a false standard of how many hours to spend studying, how many friends to have and how little sleep you should be getting. But there’s no rules as to what’s right for you.

You are the only person who knows what’s best for you. In order to make the most out of your time at NU, you have to listen to yourself. Everyone wants different things out of their college experience. You are the only person who knows exactly what you want. Because of that, you are the only person who can determine what needs to happen in order for you to reach your goals.

Carving your own path is empowering. At NU, this can look like choosing areas of study and extracurriculars that suit your individual interests. Paving your own journey can help eliminate comparisons and create independence. It also helps with confidence.

Finally, I think the most important reminder I can give is that you are not alone in dealing with imposter syndrome. We’re all going through this together, and being a part of a community is one of the best ways to create belonging.

For those of you who hold identities that are typically more impacted by imposter syndrome, there are many identity-based communities within NU that can provide that sense of belonging on a smaller and more personal scale.

If imposter syndrome is feeling like you’re not good enough and you don’t belong here, feeling a sense of belonging is the best way of dispelling that.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @BoasSamantha

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