Imposter syndrome or the imposter phenomenon reflects a belief that you’re incompetent or incapable despite demonstrating skills and abilities that prove otherwise. Sound familiar? Returning to college after several years away from the textbook grind can intensify these feelings. Although they don’t try to let on that this doubt is burrowing deep within, it often stokes the flame of anxiety for adult students as they try to prove to themselves, and their supporters, that they can achieve their goal.

Recognizing how this phenomenon has manifested in you is the first step to confronting and overcoming it. Which of the five classifications below best describe you?


You are never satisfied and always feel you need to or could do better. Perfection can lead to intense self-induced pressure to perform. Often, you find yourself focused on even the most minute flaws.


Inadequacy pushes you to work extra to compete with those that you view as more successful or qualified. This might mean staying late after work or volunteering for extra projects and assignments.



You can’t learn enough. Although you are very skilled and knowledgeable in a particular area, in actuality, no level of education or endorsement will curb your feelings of inadequacy.


You set unworldly standards for yourself and are defeated when the first try fails to meet your expectations. Things come easy to you within your area of expertise, and you’re not accustomed to spending time studying or preparing.


The loner. You often view asking for help as a weakness and prefer to work alone and reject others’ help to build self-worth.

With the correct lens, each persona above can exhibit positive results: perfectionism and a superhero are often motivated to put quality time and effort into an assignment. Experts love to learn and are always seeking more. The natural genius can also channel the desire to reach the end reward, and soloists often experience a state of flow that produces a polished finished product.

When the imposter feelings begin to creep in, pay attention to the trigger causing them to emerge. Is it at the beginning of each new semester? Is it after a quiz you didn’t score well on? Maybe you’re finding it hard to prioritize school with all of the other commitments you hold and feel like you’re losing focus on the end goal. When you can become able to anticipate your imposter showing up like Cousin Eddy – unwelcome and at the most inconvenient time – you’ll be able to steer clear and focus on the positive progress and reality of the legitimate ability you have to make it to commencement. If you, or someone you know, are struggling please visit the Northern Michigan Univesity After-Hours Crisis Counseling.

M. Wagner. Five Types of Imposter Syndrome (and 5 Ways to Battle Each One). [The Muse]. Retrieved from: