What is Imposter Syndrome?

By Ashford University Staff

Which Imposter Syndrome Type do you Have?

As a student or professional, you may know the feeling of dread that leads up to due dates for important assignments or presentations. It can be an anxiety-inducing time that may lead you to ask yourself, “If I am not going to nail this presentation or get a 100% on this paper, what’s the point?” If this has ever crossed your mind, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome (also called imposter phenomenon by psychologists). 

While there are various forms, imposter syndrome typically is defined as a feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt in any given situation (though often associated with work or school), despite past proven success. 

This phenomenon affects all kinds of people, especially high-achieving students and professionals. However, being aware of the symptoms and understanding some coping mechanisms can help you overcome these negative feelings, or feeling like you only succeed due to luck. 

In this blog, we will take a look at the different types of imposter syndromes, how it can affect students in particular, and how to cope. Plus, take a quiz to find out if you suffer from imposter syndrome, then follow our tips for coping.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

There are five common types of patterns in imposter syndrome:

  1. The Perfectionist — They feel like their work must be flawless all the time. They also feel like they have failed, even if they score a near-perfect score, but don’t receive a perfect 100%. Often, these feelings cause the perfectionist to feel as though they are not meant to earn a college degree.
  2. The Superwoman/Superman — They feel guilty during their down time, since they feel they should be working on schoolwork, despite their previously successfully completed courses. For no reason at all, they feel that this could be the one that they fail.
  3. The Natural Genius — Historically, they excel without much effort, yet feel shame after a sub-par performance or grade, especially if they can’t do it easily. Often, these feelings cause the natural genius to avoid taking on new challenges because they fear it will be too much work to master a new skill.
  4. The Soloist — The soloist will avoid asking for help because they don’t feel they need it, or because they are afraid of being “found out” or being considered a “fraud.”
  5. The Expert — The expert feels like they never know enough. They tend to completely avoid an assignment just because they’re unfamiliar with one requirement. Additionally, they feel as if their past successes do not reflect their skills, and that they “got lucky.”

Imposter Syndrome in First-Generation Students

I have worked in higher education for nine years and I’ve witnessed firsthand how imposter syndrome affects college-level students. This psychological phenomenon is particularly present in first-generation students, much more than in students who had at least one parent attend college. Many first-generation students do not feel that they can ask advice from their parents and cannot rely on them to understand the ins-and-outs of higher education.

The added pressure that comes with first-gen students can lead to anxiety and overachievement. Perfection is not attainable, and thankfully, that is not what educators and employers require. For students, it’s the pressure that you put on yourself that can lead to “The Expert” type of imposter syndrome. 

I am even guilty of this “Expert” type imposter syndrome. In my career, I sometimes feel as though I will never know enough about a certain system that is needed, or that my personality won’t cut it in upper-level management. Does this mean that I am unemployable and should throw in the towel? Absolutely not; but this mentality can be debilitating. For example, it can force someone into thinking that if they don’t have all of the required skills for a job posting, that they shouldn’t even apply. Or if one section of their paper isn’t as strong as the others, that they just shouldn’t submit it. However, it’s through failure that we learn lessons and should apply that lesson to the next challenge that comes our way. 

Imposter Syndrome Quiz

Do you feel like an imposter in your own skin? A phony? Take this quiz to find out whether you struggle with imposter syndrome. Then review our suggestions below to help you cope with imposter syndrome.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

If you feel strongly about your quiz results, but don’t know to help support yourself on this self-assessment journey, there are several actions you can take to overcome imposter syndrome, and we’ll be here to help support you!

1. Talk to your mentors
Having a mentor can provide encouragement and support for growth, guidance, and leadership. Ashford University’s CHAMPS Peer Mentoring program matches new students adjusting to the demands of pursuing a college degree (mentees) with high-achieving, upper-division students (mentors) to create a space for peer-to-peer mentorship that promotes student development and success. 

2. Recognize your accomplishments, wins, and successes
Take the time to look back at how far you’ve come academically and intellectually. Remember when you first started and were unfamiliar with APA style or how to create a PowerPoint, for example? Now you can complete these tasks in no time. Recognizing your achievements will reinforce the positive growth you have experienced so far and remind you that you can learn new skills.

3. Remember what you do well
Many students are shy or nervous to respond to their peer discussions, but that doesn’t scare you and you take pride in opening the flood gates and prompting others to post. Something else that you may do well is read your assigned chapters and lay it out in an organized, succinct manner. There are things that you do well! 

4. Realize no one is perfect
Ask for help! Take advantage of our 24/7 Library assistance, 24/7Writing Center assistance, and many other AU support teams that are here to help you succeed. 

5. Change your thinking
Start your mornings with a positive, two-minute affirmation and turn failures into lessons. 
While your feelings of imposter syndrome may never fully go away, knowledge is power, and by taking these steps, you will begin to cope with and adjust your actions when you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or defeated. After all, college is a challenge, but you are tenacious and deserve to earn your degree. Never forget that!

Until next time…

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Written by Natalie Mell, Community Manager

*Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.


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