Imposter Syndrome in Higher Education: What It Is and How to Overcome It

Higher education is a transformative experience that can open up a variety of opportunities for students from all backgrounds. It can help them gain knowledge and skills both personally and professionally, make meaningful lifelong connections, and prepare them for the workforce. However, for some students, the experience can be riddled with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. This phenomenon is known as imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition that was first identified in a 1978 study in which individuals doubt their abilities and feel like a fraud, even in the face of evidence of their competence. It is commonly experienced by high-achieving individuals who are unable to internalize their accomplishments and feel like they don’t deserve their success. 

Imposter syndrome is especially prevalent in higher education, where students may come in with parental expectations and are often surrounded by high-achieving peers, which may intensify the feeling of intense academic pressure. Students with imposter syndrome may feel like they don’t belong, worry that they will be exposed as a fraud, and fear failure.

The consequences of imposter syndrome can lead to anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. It can also hold students back from reaching their full potential and pursuing opportunities that they are more than capable of.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

While imposter syndrome can be a challenging condition to deal with, there are ways to overcome it. Here are some strategies that students can use to combat imposter syndrome:

  1. Recognize that imposter syndrome is common. The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is to recognize that it is a common condition that affects many people, especially high-achieving individuals. Knowing that you are not alone can help alleviate some of the feelings of isolation and self-doubt.
  2. Identify your triggers. Think about the situations or events that trigger feelings of imposter syndrome. Is it a particular class or assignment? Is it being around certain people? Once you have identified your triggers, you can work to minimize their impact.
  3. Focus on your strengths. Instead of focusing on your weaknesses and perceived inadequacies, focus on your strengths and accomplishments. Write down a list of your achievements and skills, and remind yourself of them when you start to feel self-doubt.
  4. Seek support. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or mentor about your feelings of imposter syndrome. They can offer support and encouragement and help you put your accomplishments into perspective. This is also a great time to connect with your academic advisor, student services or success coordinators, and/or the counseling center on your campus for additional resources and support.
  5. Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself is important for overall well-being and can help alleviate some of the symptoms of imposter syndrome. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and make time for activities that you enjoy.
  6. Challenge your negative self-talk. When you start to hear that voice in your head telling you that you’re not good enough, challenge it. Ask yourself if the negative thoughts are true, and try reframing them in a more positive light.
  7. Embrace failure. Remember that failure is a natural part of the learning process and that everyone experiences setbacks and challenges. Instead of seeing failure as a reflection of your abilities, see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. One of my favorite colleagues in graduate school used to say, “B’s get degrees.” Depending on what class you are in and what the department/college/university requirements are, C’s and sometimes even D’s can get degrees. Even if you fail a course, most universities have repeat options. There are multiple paths to the same destination, and a stumbling block or two is not the end of the road for you. If anything, it’s just cause to take a different route or reconsider your strategy toward success. 


Imposter syndrome is a common experience among high-achieving individuals and is especially prevalent in higher education. It can lead to feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and low self-esteem that can hold students back from reaching their full potential. However, there are strategies that students can use to overcome imposter syndrome, including recognizing that it is a common condition, focusing on their strengths, seeking support, practicing self-care, challenging negative self-talk, and embracing failure.

By taking steps to overcome imposter syndrome, students can learn to internalize their accomplishments and feel more confident in their abilities.

Remember: we have all been where you are, and those of us who work in higher education are some of the most prone to imposter syndrome, truth be told. You are not alone. There are supports in place to help you throughout your academic journey at your institution – take advantage of them. If you are ever unsure, you can always feel free to reach out to me, and I will do my best to help you with the process. 

-Your Academic Advisor