The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Dec. 8, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Dealing with impostor syndrome as a transfer student


Krista Nichols is the copy chief for the 2020-2021 school year. 

I had my six-month dental cleaning recently, and as my wonderful hygienist, Nicole, polished and poked my teeth, my gums felt a bit more sensitive than they usually do. I mentioned that I’d been slacking on my flossing.

Nicole asked me how many days a week I flossed, and I sheepishly answered, "Maybe four?"

"That’s really good," she said. "And your teeth look great. I think you're just psyching yourself out."

Psyching myself out. This was the second time in the past month someone told me I was doing that, and it reminded me that most of us are too hard on ourselves — and we’re usually doing a lot better than we think.

I transferred to UNC from Wake Tech Community College two years ago. And I often think that I must have been admitted to this university by mistake, I'm not as smart as my peers, I don't deserve to be in the positions I'm in.

During orientation in July 2019, Luke Fayard, the University's transfer student coordinator, gave a presentation about impostor syndrome — a phenomenon characterized by intense self-doubt and feeling like a fraud.

And it seems transfer students are particularly prone to it.

Transfer students take many different paths to UNC. In my cohort, there was a father of two who was closer to my parents' ages than my own, a baseball player who had a chance to join the Diamond Heels, people who attended community college first to save money, many who started out at other universities but decided they needed a change for one reason or another … the list goes on.

Of the 71 percent of incoming first-years who reported their high school class rank in 2020, almost three-fourths were in the top 10 percent of their class, and over 90 percent were in the top 20, according to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. By contrast, it's not uncommon for transfer students to have not done so well in high school and then worked really hard during their first year or two of college to prove themselves.

Whatever your path to UNC may look like, as a transfer, you might feel like you have to play catch-up when you get here. Many of your first-year classmates will be straight out of AP classes (and won't let you forget it), and upperclassmen you meet will have had some time to adjust to the rigor of UNC academics — which I'm sure you've heard horror stories about.

If you're transferring from a community college, the adjustment can be particularly challenging. I'm extremely grateful for Wake Tech, and it's a great college, but it simply doesn't have the resources the state flagship university has. And while my classmates were wonderful, intelligent people, they weren't across-the-board high achievers like my peers at UNC are — they had lives outside of school.

It can be very tempting to do all the things when you get to UNC, to join all the clubs, to take all the classes. And while I highly recommend joining a couple of the many student organizations — in my experience, it's the best way to make friends — and taking advantage of the expansive course catalog the University offers, don't overload yourself.

You can attend as many club interest meetings and sign up for as many Listservs as you want, but you don't have to commit to everything. And students who transfer with 30 or more credit hours can stay at UNC for an extra semester, so take advantage of that if it seems like a good option for you.

There will be times when you feel like you're incompetent and don't have your life figured out, but trust me — most people are just faking it till they make it. Even if some of your peers seem like they have it all together, they're probably a mess and good at hiding it. They most likely consume way too much caffeine and sleep way too little, and too often, their health — physical and mental — suffers.

While caffeine and sleepless nights are inevitable parts of the college experience, it's important to find the right balance so they don't become too prominent in your daily life. And don't be afraid to admit when you're struggling. Many people are willing to help, and they might confide in you as well.

Getting into UNC is difficult at any level. While being admitted as a transfer might look easier on paper than being admitted as a first-year, you had to work just as hard as — and maybe even harder than — anyone else to get in.

Don't waste time wondering how you got here or if you deserve to be here. You're here. You might as well make the most of it. And you'll do just fine.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.