Posted By Seungyeon Lee, PhD, University of Central Arkansas, Monday, April 3, 2023
Usually, college students imagine their experiences will follow a certain script. Imagine that you are a first-year college student. Your friends, peers, family, and professors constantly ask how you are doing, ask what you have been engaged in, and tell you how great college life is. You nod your consent, even if you do not completely agree. And your daily social media browsing shows you hundreds of other first-year students having the times of their lives. So many great and shareable moments! You all seem to be living your best life, but is all this authentic?
Most college students ask some of these questions:
Am I doing what I should right now? Is college/university right for me? Why do I feel I am faking something and playing a role that does not belong to me? These questions and others related to them can produce feelings of inferiority and lead to the youth experiencing imposter syndrome (Ramirez et al., 2023).
Imposter syndrome is associated with fear, where the individual thinks they do not represent a true version of themselves and feel incompatible with others. Ramirez et al. (2023) indicated that college students from underrepresented groups continue to experience cultural, gendered, and/or social isolation, which strengthens their experience of imposter syndrome (which causes them to withdraw socially, further exacerbating the imposter syndrome). Although the number of college students reporting imposter syndrome is growing, most institutions that Ramirez and colleagues investigated do not provide educational interventions to help make the college transition successful.
Imposter syndrome is one of the mental health issues with which healthcare professionals grapple—unlike anxiety or depressive disorders. People see a collection of recognizable traits of being inferior, but the given syndrome alone does not disrupt normal functioning. Still, the “puzzling feature” of being an imposter (Gadsby, 2020) could decrease academic performance and increase college students’ burnout (Freeman & Peisha, 2021). Feelings of inferiority could bring excessive fear, anxiety, and stress in the long run.
Possible interventions that campus mental health professionals can incorporate include: (a) Fostering a safe learning environment on campus, (b) promoting awareness campaigns, and/or (c) addressing systematic barriers to active help-seeking with peer group support (Freeman & Peisha, 2021).
Detecting early signs that can lead to a mental health disorder is critical. From an individual standpoint, being mindful of imposter syndrome could be a step to thinking about your ownership of how you navigate your way through life. From a community perspective, awareness of how contextual changes can exacerbate imposter syndrome can remind us to be mindful of developmental transition periods, such as going to college.
Freeman, J., & Peisha, C. (2022). Imposter syndrome in doctors beyond training: A narrative review. Australasian Psychiatry, 30(1), 49–54. https://doi.org/10.1177/10398562211036121
Gadsby, S. (2020). Imposter syndrome and self-deception. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 100(2), 246–261. https://doi.org/10.1080/00048402.2021.1874445
Ramirez, B. R., Puente, M., & Contreras, F. (2023). Navigat,Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/dhe0000463