Navigating Imposter Syndrome: Tips for University Students from upReach

Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in with a new group of people? Or that you’re just not good enough? Well, you might have imposter syndrome. This is completely natural - but that doesn’t mean you should have to endure it. We’ve teamed up with upReach, a charity that supports university students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, to hear their tips for overcoming your inner imposter.

A young person seems relatively happy. On the inside, they're confused and visibly upset.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome manifests in different ways, but it essentially involves feeling like a fraud who hasn’t truly earned their accomplishments. You may have experienced it after starting university; for example, if you’re struggling with your course, you may feel as though you don’t deserve your place on it. While it may not seem like it, this is a very common feeling among university students – particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds.

For example, if you’re the first in your family to go to university, you may feel out of place because perhaps you did not grow up thinking it was an option for you.

Take pride in your authentic self

Despite this disconnect, there is no reason why you should have to change yourself in order to ‘fit in’. You don’t need to hide your background, or change your accent, or incorporate new
words into your vocabulary. If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable being yourself, it might be a good idea to try distancing yourself from them.

If you received a contextualised offer to get into university, this may have contributed to your feelings of imposter syndrome. However, this absolutely does not mean that you didn’t earn your place like others on your course. In fact, UCAS reports that around half of A-Level students who apply to university get in with lower grades than the official entry requirements. So, getting into uni with lower grades is not uncommon – and definitely nothing to be ashamed of!

Connect with others you relate to

Creating a support network you can rely on is an important way of overcoming imposter syndrome. Check out your Students’ Union for societies created by students with characteristics that you share, as joining these can help foster a sense of belonging. For example, the 93% Club has societies across the UK for those who attended state schools.

There are often SU representatives who act as the voice for different groups including women, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ students and even students from the North of England.

Remember to also keep in touch with your friends from home. It can be a struggle at first, trying to balance your uni course with the excitement of making new friends, but when
things settle down, make sure not to neglect your old friendships. Mari from upReach says, “I joined a Welsh Society (who also regularly met with Northern/Irish/Scottish Societies) which helped a lot with adjusting at uni and forming a supportive community.”

Ask for help if you’re struggling with your course

If you’re struggling with your course at university and it’s making you feel like you’re not good enough to be there, it can be helpful to remind yourself of your past accomplishments; studying hard, passing your exams, and getting accepted into university are no mean feat! You wouldn’t have gotten in if you weren’t able to do it.

To help you understand your course better, you can attend your lecturers’ or seminar tutors’ office hours. At school, you’ll likely have had much more scheduled contact time with your
teachers, so office hours are a chance for you to ask questions and actually have a conversation with your tutors. If you’re nervous about going to office hours for the first time, pick your favourite tutor and approach them at the end of a lecture to say hi and ask what you can expect from their office hours.

Katie from upReach says, “I always used to go to receive feedback on my essay plans, which made me feel much more confident that I was doing the assignment right, especially in first
year when I had no clue how to write a university essay.”

Look out for bursaries and internships

If you’re from a working class background, you may have had less exposure to professional jobs than some of your peers at university. This may contribute to feelings of imposter
syndrome, if you find yourself stuck in conversations you have no idea how to contribute to.

Connecting more with people you can relate to will help with this, but we also recommend taking advantage of the other opportunities on offer to you – whether that’s support for all
students at your university or initiatives specifically for those from underrepresented backgrounds. This could be bursaries, mentorship schemes and exclusive internships for
those with particular characteristics. You can also get an additional helping hand from charities like upReach, which specifically supports students from lower socio-economic backgrounds with their career development

In conclusion

Imposter syndrome isn’t great to experience – but you don’t have to suffer in silence. If you ever start feeling like you don’t deserve your accomplishments, why not lessen the burden
by sharing your struggles with someone else? Chances are, they’ve also experienced it themselves.

About upReach

upReach is a multi-award-winning charity that provides 1-to-1 career coaching to ambitious students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, helping them to discover
different career options, develop their employability skills and secure work experience at top companies across the UK. To learn more about the support they provide:

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Updated on 09-Jul-2024

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