Imposter Syndrome and Other Views from Inside the Ivy League Bubble

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One of the most stressful days for many high school seniors—Ivy Day—has become Judgment Day. For me, Ivy Day fantastically landed at the end of Spring Break, so I had a whole week to peruse College Confidential and think through worst-case scenarios. Luckily, I made it through and ultimately chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania. However, for more than 250,000 students across the world, Ivy Day was much less exhilarating.

Let’s take a step outside of the Ivy League Bubble and discuss imposter syndrome.

To all the high-performing high school seniors out there, I get it. With pressure coming at you from parents, teachers, society and, worst of all, yourselves, I understand the challenge of avoiding competition or ignoring Ivy League buzz. However, you must have a well-rounded view of college. Ultimately, you should at least consider attending less selective schools since it will lead to better mental health and more individualized opportunities.

From technologically-minded schools like MIT to liberal arts institutions such as Columbia, top schools are realizing the influence of a phenomena known as “Imposter Syndrome amongst teens entering their schools. Imposter Syndrome occurs when you believe that you are not intelligent or capable despite a history of high achievement. Most highly selective universities find high rates of this syndrome among their students since nearly every student at these schools were near the top of their high school classes.

When Ivy League students don’t perform as well as they used to in high school, many begin to question whether they truly belong at the school they worked so hard to get into.

Less than three months into college, a few of my friends began complaining about “how stupid” they are after not meeting their expectations on a few midterms, but this time not as a joke… They truly meant it. Without knowing it, they were facing imposter syndrome.

Many high schoolers that fall victim to imposter syndrome come into their Ivy League college with the misconception just the category of Ivy League sets them for life. In some ways, it does: You have a strong support system, a school that cares about your performance and a name that carries prestige. On the other hand, you will compete with the brightest individuals in the world for grades, clubs, scholarships, startup funding, research positions and internships, which all factor into landing a job.

Now imagine for a second that you are attending a state school. The reduced cost comes to mind immediately, especially for your parents. Many families do not want to pay $70,000 per year for one child’s education, which makes state schools a more feasible option. What may not come to mind immediately is that attending this school would lead to much better mental health—in that you might avoid imposter syndrome—along with a favorable curve and more opportunities to shine. Various online blogs, Q&A sites and other social media platforms share the pros and cons of attending a middle-ranked university and graduating at the top of your class versus attending an Ivy League caliber university and graduating in the middle of the pack. Just like the answers to all your questions nowadays, it depends.

I’ll lay out some of the main points from my limited experience at an Ivy League university looking in on my friends at less-selective universities and leave the rest up to you. The main benefits of attending a less-selective university and topping the class include a GPA you can be proud of, self-confidence, opportunities to shine within the school, whether it be an Honors College option or selective research and internship offers and potentially better job prospects. The main drawbacks sometimes include less prestigious brand name and a less powerful alumni network. Though a brand name may help, the offers you land in the end are reflective of the effort you put into the process and the enthusiasm with which you approach the field.

All in all, if you are admitted into an Ivy League school, you really can’t go wrong with the school you attend as long as you have motivation and internal aspirations to strive for. However, I would advise you to at least consider the options laid out for you before jumping at the Ivy League seal. And if you were not admitted, don’t lose hope. You have great opportunities awaiting you.

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