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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Imposter Syndrome: Undergrad Edition


February 10, 2021
by Liz

Admissions Diversity

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As I’ve mentioned before, one of the best parts of being a student ambassador is connecting with students—students that have been recently admitted, students interested in applying, and current students. Last night I had a video call with a recently admitted student, and they asked me something that really stood out to me. She asked me about imposter syndrome, but it wasn’t about how I related to it as a person of color. It was about how I felt when I was first admitted coming from Cal State Fullerton. Now, this person did not mean to make Cal State Fullerton sound inferior to other campuses and I certainly have nothing negative to say about CSUF at all. But, I thought it was a great question.

I remember being very proud and excited when I first received my acceptance letter to the program. But, as summer slowly approached, I started to worry about whether or not I would be just as “smart” or just as “prepared” as all of the other students in my class. I didn’t mean to doubt myself or feel as though I was competing with everyone else, but I just wanted to be good enough and feel like I deserved to be there.

On the first day of class, we all introduced ourselves. The faculty put together a PowerPoint that stated what our names were, our hometown, and the universities we attended. My last name begins with an R so you can only imagine how nervous I felt as they went through everyone leading up to my turn. As people walked up to introduce themselves, I saw UCLA, UC Berkley, San Diego State, UC Davis, USC, Chapman—all of these highly respected universities on people’s slides. And again, I don’t mean to say CSUF is any less than these institutions, but the schools on those slides definitely come with a reputation of being some of the best. It took some time for me to feel confident and know that I was just as good a student as everyone who came from these other highly respected schools. I have to say that everyone in my classes has had amazing ideas and thoughts to share these past two years—people from divrse backgrounds who’ve attended different universities.

That’s the point I hope to get across with this post. It’s completely normal to feel nervous and scared that you may not be as good as everyone else around you in class. I’m sure everyone that gets admitted feels this in some way! But, I want you to know that you deserve to be here and there’s a reason you were admitted and it’s because the admissions team saw something in you that made them believe you would be a great OT. That’s the great thing about the holistic admissions process. There’s bright people on every campus and we want people with different backgrounds to share their experiences in the classroom.  I also thought this was something that students who are currently at community colleges could relate to as well. Continue to push yourself and work towards getting that bachelor’s degree in order to one day apply for OT school!

At the end of the day, we’re all working towards being occupational therapists. You’ll get a chance to develop your clinical reasoning skills and discover your therapeutic use of self along the rest of your peers. We’re all on this journey together. So, congratulations to all those students who just recently got admitted into our program. Take some time to celebrate all of the hard work you did to get here. And if you’re still preparing to apply or try again, you also got this! As always, feel free to shoot me an email if you would like to chat more about this or anything at all. Fight on!

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Thank you Liz for sharing your experience with all of us. I felt very similar as I went to Cal State, Northridge (CSUN). Like you said, it’s not that our respective Cal State schools are not good schools, but schools like UCLA, Berkeley, USC, etc. do come with that prestige, the name alone stands out. It’s hard not to notice right away that you’re one of the few, if not the only one, representing Cal States or other small schools when meeting other USC OT students. But it’s important to remind yourself that it does not minimize the value you are bringing to USC and the OT field. Going to CSUN and taking prerequisites at multiple community colleges taught me a lot about myself. When applying to undergraduate school I didn’t have the best grades or financial aid opportunities, so I had to do what I could to get my Bachelor’s degree and eventually I made it to the same spaces with people from these big schools. It took some time as a new OT student to feel comfortable, but eventually I saw those experiences as a strength that could potentially help me support other students and even clients.