By Amy Baldwin, EdD, director of University College, University of Central Arkansas

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-2-26-14-pmThe issue Many college students worry that they got into this program through luck rather than ability and effort. Certain student populations are especially vulnerable: first generation students, racial minorities, women in male-dominated fields, and students from high-achieving families.

Why it matters Feeling like an imposter undermines the development of resilience. It is a barrier to integrating socially and academically with the campus community (a key to student success). “Imposter” students may see challenges as evidence that they don’t belong in college, rather than as opportunities for growth.

Student guide to overcoming the imposter phenomenon (Student Health 101)

How to help students integrate with the campus community

1     Help grow students’ sense of belonging

Incorporate “social-belonging” messaging into communications. “The primary message is a message of growth—that over time, everyone comes to feel at home,” writes Dr. Greg Walton, associate professor of psychology at Stanford University.

How to get the message right (Greg Walton)

2     Connect students with similar faculty members

For example, create a way for first-generation faculty to share their stories and show that they are available to meet with first-generation and low-income students. “The UVA web resource [below] is a great example of something that’s really easy,” says Katharine Meyer, a doctoral researcher in education policy at the University of Virginia. “The stories communicate that transitioning to college is difficult, stress and struggle are common, and that eventually students will connect and persevere.”

First-generation college graduates on faculty (University of Virginia)

3     Proactively bring students to office hours

Office hours can be intimidating. Bringing people there “communicates to students, and especially to first-generation students, that office hour attendance is welcome and something everyone does,” says Meyer.

For example
“I would like to see everyone in office hours over the next three weeks. If you have a conflict with those hours, please email me and we can set up another time to get to know each other.”

4     Normalize and reframe impostor feelings

Acknowledge the imposter experience and demonstrate how to reframe these feelings and accept praise. Incorporate this strategy into RA training. “You have to practice reframing the thoughts in your head,” says Dr. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business, 2011).

For example
Professor:          “Your feelings are common. You deserve to be here. In fact, I recommend
that you take a more advanced class.”
Student:             “Whoa, but I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Professor:          “You’re ready. Think about how much you’ll learn and what a great opportunity
this is to challenge yourself.”

5     Recognize the value of failure

Emphasize that asking for support and experiencing failure help move us toward success.

For example
“It’s OK to raise your hand and ask the question or say ‘I’m not following; please explain again.

Résumé of failures (Johannes Haushofer)