Panic ensues after leaving your study group for the night; your heart sinks and insecurity takes over, convincing you that you don't belong. Your irrational thoughts tell you that they came up with more intelligent answers than you. Worst of all, you feel like you are deceiving your peers into thinking you're intelligent. This self-doubt has a name: impostor syndrome.
According to Western University psychology professor Daniel Ansari, impostor syndrome is an experience in which you feel like you're viewed as something you're not.
"You feel as if you don't have the necessary qualifications or merits to be in a situation," elaborates Ansari.
Because of the rigorous demands of university, many students feel this way at one point or another in their academic career. First-years, especially, may endure the discomfort of impostor syndrome because of the transition to a new environment.
Fourth-year media, information and technoculture student Gabriella Learn thinks that impostor syndrome is an inherent part of university life due to the competitive environment.
"If you're in the same program as your friends, you'll probably be going after similar job prospects and you'll probably compare yourself to them," Learn says. "Everyone around me seems so brilliant and sometimes I feel as if I can't keep up."
Learn adds that one of her friends feels this way, despite making the Dean's List — a list of full-time students who earned an 80 per cent average or more with no failed courses.
Ansari confirms this sentiment, "A lot of people in high stress professions experience impostor syndrome because there's lots of expectations or peer comparison."
Although reoccurring feelings of impostor syndrome are common, they can strain a student's self-confidence, well-being and motivation to do work.
Brent Scott, a counsellor at the Student Development Centre, says that an individual may feel as if they can't do their assigned work or feel unworthy of their romantic partner due to impostor syndrome.
To overcome these feelings of inadequacy, Scott advises individuals to talk to trusted family members or friends and remind themselves of their accomplishments.
"If you're at university, you were a good student in high school because bad students don't get to university," says Scott. Scott explains that students feel like they may not succeed in a new environment, but they have to remind themselves that they've already built strong study habits and will continue to do so in university.
Undergraduate students aren't alone in experiencing this feeling of inferiority. Ansari adds that even professors suffer from it occasionally.
"Even people who may seem well-adjusted to a situation may be suffering from impostor syndrome," says Ansari.
As the new school year rolls around, students may feel overwhelmed and unprepared to meet the year's challenges. Feeling fraudulent amongst peers is normal, but it's imperative to realize that not everyone meets the demands of university immediately.
Individuals should give themselves time to acknowledge their feelings and adjust to the new year. With time, students will learn to navigate and even thrive in stressful environments.