“You weren’t a 4.0 GPA college student. You struggled to find the motivation to finish strong in your classes every semester. Some may say you didn’t deserve to be accepted at UCLA. Yet, you continued to pursue your Master’s degree. Where did you find the strength?”
Firstly, GPA does not accurately determine your entire level of success – it’s only one part of the pie. Now, I don’t mean go ahead and completely disregard effort into your courses. Do your best work every single day. Your work ethic is what will speak beyond test scores and GPA; it will separate you from the crowd in any setting. Also, be wary of imposter syndrome, the concept of an individual describing themselves as an imposter or fraud in their current success or position “despite their earned degrees, scholastic honors, high achievement on standardized tests, praise and professional recognition from colleagues and respected authorities” (Clance & Imes, 1978, p. 1).
I was accepted to the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) back in March 2012. I did not realize how prestigious UCLA was until I attended the Freshman Summer Program, where I met some of the brightest minds and made strong friendships. However, I gradually questioned my acceptance. In Fall 2012, I had such a terrible “office hours” experience that I became reluctant to reach out to any professors for the rest of the academic year. I constantly went back home (during weekends as well as many weekdays) because I did not feel like I belonged at the university. I was working a part-time job mainly to help support my family. I went out of my way to constantly make friends to try to feel like I belonged to the school. I still felt alone at the end. I would simply respond on a positive note whenever my friends in Inglewood ask how everything was going at UCLA. “My GPA was lower than California gas prices,” I jokingly would reply. I feared to return back for my sophomore year. I believed my acceptance was unearned and I only got to where I am because luck was on my side- imposter syndrome had displaced my true identity and purpose. Imposter syndrome is a common issue, especially among first-generation, low-income students entering a higher socioeconomic environment such as a university.
Why did I end up returning for sophomore year? Accept that challenges will come across your path regardless of how prepared you might feel. It’s massively important to find a solid network of like-minded friends or empathetic mentors during your academic journey. They can help guide you through your struggles or when you are feeling lost in life; they can help you avoid mistakes, save you time, or help you figure out your purpose. Several friends and I formed a support group called the “Dream Team.” Angel Estrella and Venus Esquivel, my empowering residential advisors at the time, always brought the group closer. They had an abundance of resources and mentored me whenever I had any personal issues or self-doubt. They put things into perspective and reaffirmed my belonging at UCLA. Venus always told me to appreciate my privileges and find faith in myself. She worked day and night even when life was difficult. Her perseverance overpowered her challenges. “Whenever you start feeling lost or doubtful, remember why you started, and who you are doing this for – and the clearer your reasons are, the stronger your purpose becomes,” said Angel, a graduate student who persevered through many similar mental and academic tribulations; therefore, he was able to employ empathy as well as relevant advice. He learned to build his purpose in life beyond himself; he realized the positive impact he can have on not only his friends, and family, but the entire community that he grew up in. He recalls his life’s mission whenever he faces barriers such as imposter syndrome and remembers that “things can always be worse” in order to maintain a perspective around daily gratitude.
Imposter syndrome returned when I was accepted to the University of Texas at Austin back in January 2017. How did one of the top Educational programs in the nation review my application and decide to offer me a spot? Did I get in by accident? I had a tremendous amount of relevant professional educational experience, but I lacked in research skills and high grades compared to my cohort. I was invited to the Student Admit Weekend the following February. My sister convinced me to attend but I had high doubts, as I was reluctant to move away from my family. The accepted students were introduced to their faculty advisors and then shown the demographics. In my cohort, I was one of the few males accepted, with 38 women accepted. The average GPA was roughly 3.85-3.9. GRE scores were above average. “I set the curve lower,” I joked. Imposter syndrome hit me once again, like at UCLA. I just wanted to pack up, reject my offer, and head back home. It was overwhelming for me. I went to the restroom to wash up thinking, “there is no way I was accepted on purpose.”
My faculty advisor, Dr. Victor Saenz, entered the restroom. After I explained my feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness for the program, he gave me an empowering speech. Overall, he pointed out GPA and standardized exams do not determine my potential, as it does not show critical thinking. He shared that my perseverance to overcome the multitude of disadvantages and challenges I endured had inspired my family, colleagues, and community. This is the strength and potential the program saw in me. I deserved to be in the position I am today and I must conform to accept my strengths and weaknesses. Beyond grades and test scores, it is how one chooses to overcome the struggles and challenges that speak to real strength, willpower, and perseverance. I accepted my offer later that night, as I wanted these empowering faculty members to mentor me.
So how does one persevere against imposter syndrome? There is a high chance you or someone you met felt as if they did not belong in a certain school or program of skill. You should not limit your interactions with faculty members in the classroom setting; schedule office hours with them throughout the semester to keep yourself accountable. Find mentors who are in a position you wish to be in and peers who radiate positivity and have like-minded aspiration. Engage in community groups and attend networking events. Speak to people how you want them to perceive you as. For example, if you plan to pursue a doctorate, talk to faculty members and others you network with as such so they may already see you as a potential candidate in the future. My family, colleagues, and close friends give me the strength to accept my ability to be a competitive scholar, an influential human being, even though I come from a disadvantaged background. I am far from perfect but I am doing my best to be a better person every single day. Do not let fear, microaggressions, and self-doubt prevent you from pursuing your goals and aspirations. I have fallen and failed countless times but I always bounce back through perseverance.