Digital Diaries Episode 8: Grappling with Imposter Syndrome at Northwestern

Lenna Peterson, Reporter



Many students at Northwestern struggle with feelings of self-doubt, commonly described as imposter syndrome. But where do these feelings come from, and how can we combat them? Listen to episode eight of Digital Diaries to find out!


LENNA PETERSON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Lenna Peterson and this is episode eight of Digital Diaries, a weekly podcast following what students are doing and asking two students one question about life at Northwestern.

LENNA PETERSON: For most college students, “imposter syndrome,” or a feeling of self-doubt, is not an uncommon phenomenon. For freshmen specifically, it can be hard to adjust to college life while grappling with these feelings of being out of place or less talented than your peers.

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LENNA PETERSON: This week’s question is: How does imposter syndrome impact your life and how do you combat it at Northwestern?

JEFF SNEDEGAR: One of the things that I don’t think people talk about very often when applying at Northwestern or first coming into Northwestern is that the clubs here are very competitive. They’re very selective. So a lot of kids come in, and they have these ideas about academics and imposter syndrome is there, but then they go to apply for clubs and there’s just like, more rejection than even in the college application process.

LENNA PETERSON: That’s Communication sophomore Jeff Snedegar. Snedegar described how the unspoken pressure to succeed as a freshman can make it hard to adjust to college life, especially when it comes to competitive academic programs or student organizations that require applications or auditions in order to get involved.

JEFF SNEDEGAR: And I think I really felt that imposter syndrome. Because I had all of these, a lot of hopes in certain clubs that just didn’t pan out the way I anticipated them to, which was very normal. It’s very normal for that to happen. It happens to everybody here. But that can really add to the imposter syndrome because people don’t talk about it. And it just feels like you’re not doing well enough in this environment that like, you just don’t feel accepted, I guess.

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LENNA PETERSON: Weinberg freshman Kelsey Lee shares Snedegar’s sentiments.

KELSEY LEE: I feel like it’s all about managing expectations and knowing that most of us came from a high school where we were like at the top and it’s okay to be average here.

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LENNA PETERSON: Although these feelings make it difficult to acclimate to student life, there are ways to navigate imposter syndrome and normalize failure. High-pressure environments such as college often force students to aim for perfection and adopt an “all or nothing” mindset. Snedegar highlighted how normal it is for students to face rejection or struggle academically throughout their college experience.

JEFF SNEDEGAR: The fact that you were admitted to Northwestern means that you are good enough to be here, you are smart enough, you are capable enough. And if you are not doing great in a class, or if you didn’t get into a club that you were hoping for, all of that’s normal, it’s not an indicator that you are less than.

LENNA PETERSON: Lee also emphasized the importance of a mindset switch, especially when it comes to difficult classes or other academic programs.

KELSEY LEE: Changing that mindset from like, “I need to be number one” to “it’s cool if I’m in the middle or below middle,” which I have been below with the median many times in my econ class — which is what I was just having a little mini breakdown over.

LENNA PETERSON: Ultimately, acknowledging that imposter syndrome plays a major role in the transition to college and beyond is something that both Jeff and Kelsey believe is important.

JEFF SNEDEGAR: It’s such a big life change to come to a university to leave home and live on your own with all of these people that you’re around in the academic environment. And imposter syndrome is a very real, very common result of that big life shift. And I think that it’s really necessary and important to just acknowledge it and talk about it and let everybody know, everybody who’s going through, it that it’s something that is totally normal.


LENNA PETERSON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Lenna Peterson. Thanks for listening to another episode of Digital Diaries. This episode was reported and produced by me, Lenna Peterson. The Audio Editor of The Daily Northwestern is Lawrence Price, the Digital Managing Editor is Angeli Mittal, and the Editor-in-chief is Jacob Fulton. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this next quarter.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @LennaPeterson16

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