“Do you ever feel imposter syndrome?” asked the prospective student that I was hosting for Princeton Preview. It saddened me that instead of celebrating her acceptance, she was thinking about how she may have been a fluke in the admissions system. I immediately thought about the weeks following my Princeton acceptance when I also felt inadequate and worried that admissions made a mistake by accepting me.
Prospective students should be aware that imposter syndrome is a feeling that is experienced by many who are admitted to Princeton, and it should not impede anyone from attending the University. Although it is easy to compare oneself to their future classmates, everyone has had different opportunities; ultimately, Princeton admits students for their potential rather than past accomplishments.
Imposter syndrome is the term given by psychologists to describe the phenomenon of high-achieving individuals doubting their own accomplishments and fearing exposure as frauds. Despite concrete evidence of success, individuals experiencing imposter syndrome feel as though their achievements are due to either luck or a facade of intelligence.
After being admitted to Princeton, I definitely had a case of imposter syndrome. I remember feeling overwhelmed when my future classmates discussed the dozens of AP classes that they took in high school and the other Ivy League schools they were deciding between. It did not help that the “Official Class of 2022” Facebook group was blowing up with posts of people bragging about their many talents and accomplishments.
It seemed like every admitted student had an interesting “thing” that got them into the school. Some had already coded dozens of phone apps, given TED Talks, or been published in national newspapers. How was I supposed to be proud of being on my high school Model United Nations team when one of my potential future classmates had worked with the actual United Nations?
While it was difficult for me to not compare myself to the other prospective students, I realized that doing so would be unreasonable. Every individual admitted to Princeton comes from a unique background. A variety of factors contributed to the successes each student has had in the past, from socioeconomic status to geographical location. It would be illogical to compare the accomplishments of admitted Princeton students as each prospective student is fundamentally different; they each come from distinct lives and have had diverse opportunities.
Although past accomplishments should be celebrated and did contribute to acceptance to Princeton, what matters more than past is potential. Ultimately, Princeton admits students whom the University believes will use their education to better their lives and the lives of others. Past successes demonstrate potential as they show how individuals have utilized available resources; however, potential matters significantly more.
The feeling of imposter syndrome will not magically disappear once enrolled in the University; in reality, many Princeton students still occasionally doubt themselves. Whether it is their first B on a transcript, their first rejection from a club, or their first failed test, attending Princeton alongside hundreds of other high-achieving students can be difficult for individuals who were most likely the “star students” of their high schools. Although it is easy to be discouraged, students should try to remember that they were admitted to Princeton because the admissions office saw potential in them.
For all the prospective Princeton students who are wondering if admissions mixed up their application and they were admitted by accident: you were not. Although some prospective students at Princeton Preview and in the Facebook group may try to seem more qualified than everyone else, it is likely that these individuals are just trying to cope with imposter syndrome as well. Do not be this person, and do not let these people scare you. The fear of inadequacy should not prevent you from enrolling in Princeton.
You deserve to be here.
Katie Goldman is a first-year from Western Springs, IL. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.