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Imposter Syndrome and Anxiety

Starting university can be daunting, but I took solace in the fact that nobody else knew what they were doing, right?


After the first few weeks I started doubting myself. How was it that everyone else already seemed to know everything? Seemed to completely understand what the lecturer was talking about whilst I furiously scribbled down notes that didn’t seem to make any sense?


The worst came in tutorials. My contributions felt meaningless and I often wouldn’t know the answer to a question when everyone else did.


My feelings of insecurity crept higher and higher as the first essay deadline loomed above us.


I remember overhearing another classmate discussing their argument for the same essay topic as I had chosen. Her argument sounded so good, structured and concise. Mine felt unstable and unsure, much like myself. Still, I thought to myself, nobody has been taught how to write a university level essay, we’re all going into this blind. I got my result back and felt happy, sort of. I got a 59, a 2:2, one of that pedestal like 2:1 grade. For my first essay, not too shabby. But the next day came and a new lecture, it seemed like I was the only person who hadn’t got a 2:1. Looking back, this was very untrue, I only actually heard two people say they got a 2:1. But at that moment I felt like a failure.


I had always been fairly academic, and certainly if I felt like I really tried my best, I would get a grade that reflected that. But at university things felt different. I felt like I could spend weeks researching my essays, doing extra reading and trying to improve, only to get a grade that I deemed ‘unacceptable’. The amount of pressure and expectation that I was putting on myself was unrealistic, I was expecting 2:1’s and firsts almost immediately.


The thought hadn’t crossed my mind that I might not get the high grades that I’d been used to in school and college. Feeling like I was failing, I started not trying. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be here. They must have made some mistake, I don’t deserve to be here, it’s only a matter of time before someone notices how badly I’m doing and kicks me out.


Feeling more and more overwhelmed I seriously contemplated dropping out. I remember standing outside the library sobbing to my mum about how lonely I felt, so out of place, felt like everyone else knew what they were doing and for some reason I couldn’t get it. She said that I should wait until Christmas, and if I still felt unhappy then I could drop out.


Still feeling low, I went to my friends room one night and we started talking about our courses and essay feedback. I admitted that I felt like everyone else seemed to get it but me. She felt the exact same way. I said that I felt my grades were awful compared to everyone else’s. She agreed. It turned out we were both going through the exact same feelings. I talked to more and more friends about it, and surprise surprise, we all felt the same way. We were letting our assumptions of how we should be coping with university get the better of us.


At this point my anxiety over essays had evolved to the point where I was too scared to even check my grades or open feedback. This didn’t help either, how was I supposed to learn if I didn’t read my feedback?

So I buckled in, and went over all my essay grades and feedback, making notes on what I needed to improve. I started doing extra reading, started formulating my own opinions and being more vocal again in tutorials. I accepted that sometimes in lectures I wouldn’t understand what was being talked about. That it was okay if I hated some modules to do with my degree. And the more I put in, the more I got out of university. My grades started to improve, I felt more confident with the material and made some incredible friends.


It can take a while but there will be a moment when you’re walking through the meadows at sunset, hearing the bagpipes, in Big Cheese with your mates, or waking up to fresh snow when it will hit you. You’re here. You made it. You’re in a beautiful city, with your whole life ahead of you, at one of the top universities in the UK. And you’re the person who got yourself here. You fully deserve to be here, and feeling unsure about your degree subject does not make you any less deserving. And if it’s any help, I’m in third year and still get confused about referencing.


Ellie Ring – Third Year – Ancient History

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