Admissions Blog

You have zero chances of getting in if you don’t apply – don’t let imposter syndrome reduce your chances!”

By Leen Sawan '24
Posted Oct 18 2023

It’s a funny thing really. One minute you’re excited because you’ve just taken the decision to climb up the academic and professional ladder by pursuing graduate school, and the next thing you know you’ve managed to convince yourself of being a fraud.

Ah, the dreaded Imposter Syndrome.

I’ve been there, and if you’re reading this blog post, chances are so have you – but here’s the thing. At some point during the process of deciding to go to graduate school, applying, and even being here at SIPA, most grad students and fellow Seeples have felt the same way too.

Applying to graduate school can be an incredibly stressful process. It can also be disheartening to feel like you do not belong, and I can personally admit to having reconsidered my own application to SIPA on several occasions, simply because I felt like there was no way my application could possibly stand out to the Admissions Committee. On one occasion, I can vividly remember the feeling of self-doubt that washed over me after a particularly long day of trying to balance between my full-time job and attempting to craft my personal essay.

Needless to say, this feeling of self-doubt persisted throughout the process, but as someone who has made it to the other side, I’m here to tell you that there is hope! Imposter syndrome is extremely common amongst grad students, so you are definitely not alone. There are also ways to manage these feelings of self-doubt. Here are some of my own pieces of advice and tips:

  1. The most important takeaway from this blogpost is this: do not let imposter syndrome win! We are always our own harshest critics, and we may sometimes jeopardize our own chances at success by not believing in ourselves and not giving ourselves the best shot. While imposter syndrome could temporarily convince you that you’re a “fraud”, giving in and not submitting your application at all means that you have eliminated any chances you could have had at SIPA. As one my previous mentors told me when I shared my own experiences struggling with imposter syndrome during the application process, you have zero chances of getting in if you don’t apply, so apply anyway! Let the Admissions Committee make the final decisions for you.
  2. Look at the evidence and celebrate your previous successes. One of the most effective ways that I have personally found to deal with imposter syndrome during the application process was to reflect back on my own successes, achievements and accomplishments whenever I felt any self-doubt on the rise. I had a folder on my desktop in which I kept all my previous academic and professional “wins” or positive reinforcement that I had received over the years. I would frequently go back to this document to take a moment to reflect on my success and track how far I had come. As a bonus, you will likely need these materials for your upcoming applications or even an internship or job that you might want to pursue! 
  3. Find your self-care strategy. The application process can be a long and lonely process, with lots of ups and downs along the way. It’s important that you find your own “self-care strategy” to rely on when things get tough. Whether that’s talking to your friends and mentors, or picking up a new hobby, try to find a creative outlet to release negative thoughts and disconnect a little bit from the application process.
  4. Decide to be confident and stick with it. I get it, confidence is not a switch that can be turned on and off, and throughout the application process there will undoubtedly be some ups and downs. However, deciding to be confident and making the conscious effort to do so can help rewire some of the negative thinking patterns and feedback loops in your brain. If you change your thoughts, your brain will eventually catch up too. Next time you feel some self-doubt rise, take a minute and write down three things that you’ve accomplished so far.  Hopefully, the application process can also be a way to build your mental resilience when it comes to dealing with and overcoming imposter syndrome.
  5. Finally, be your authentic self! There is absolutely no such thing as the “perfect” SIPA applicant. Every person that applies to SIPA has a unique story that makes them a compelling applicant. Trying to compare yourself to others is only going to mask your own successes and achievements, so focus on your own journey and make sure to highlight what makes YOU stand out to the Admissions Committee.  

While it might not seem like it while you’re in the middle of working through the grueling journey that is the grad school application process, rest assured that you will gain the confidence along the way. After all, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel!