The Imposter Syndrome in High Achieving Students

How to cope with a sense of intellectual fraudulence.


The city is on to you.

Students in competitive academic environments face many challenges when it comes to stress and mental health in general. But, one of the hardest things for some students to do is recognize their own achievements. The Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success”. Those who struggle with this psychological phenomenon can find themselves facing “chronic self-doubt” that often invalidates any external proof of their success. A fear of exposure for fraud often affects high achieving individuals (it has been found to be very prevalent among women in academics) and makes it difficult to internalize and accept one’s own success.
Psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD were the first to describe imposter syndrome and initially thought of it as a phenomenon only applicable to women. However, later research found that men can suffer from the inability to internalize their success as well, and linked its prevalence to growing up in families that place a lot of emphasis on achievement. In particular, parents who shift from praise to criticism for their children’s achievements routinely.
Senior Robby Gourdie is completing his AP Research project on the Imposter Phenomenon’s relationship to perfectionism and perfectionist self-presentation through a survey of Magnet students. When asked about the imposter phenomenon he said “I think that people can gain a lot from putting a name to these unwarranted feelings of fraudulence. I think that it is helpful for coping to know that these feelings are observed an a common experience. My research has to do with IP’s relationship with perfectionism, perfectionistic self-presentation, and other demographic factors. I think that in a high-achieving environment like magnet it may be easy to fall victim to negative tendencies like IP and perfectionist self-presentation and i hope that I can learn a little bit more about that from my research.”
Because of its relationship to academic environments and home life, the imposter phenomenon is a prevailing tendency among high school students. Its presence can be debilitating and be a huge source of stress in students.
Here are some recommended ways to cope with the imposter syndrome or similar feelings of inadequacy:
1. Be aware of imposter feelings- recognize these feelings and track when they emerge. By understanding the root of the problem it will be easier to make progress towards reducing its effect on you.
2. While it is difficult to change the way you think entirely remind yourself that it’s okay to not know everything and you will learn more as your progress. Attempt to reframe the meaning of failure to something that is constructive and will serve as a learning opportunity.
3. Replace overwhelming feelings of fraudulence with reminders of your self worth.