Dealing with Academic Insecurity

Mary Karayel


Academic insecurity (or imposter syndrome) is a self-critical feeling of inadequacy. You may feel like you aren’t the smartest person in the room. You may feel that other people have adapted to university more quickly than you. You may worry that you aren't improving. These are insecurities everyone will grapple with at some point in their academic life!

After Results Day this year, I felt a lot of sympathy for the Year 13s who weren’t given the chance to prove their academic abilities to their schools, their families and to themselves. How can they feel confident that they are ready for University when their grades became a postcode lottery? Despite the algorithm results being overturned, the effects on mental health and academic insecurity are likely to linger.

Personally, I came from a state school and worked hard to achieve an A* in English Literature at A-Level. Despite being told that the university workload was far easier, I found myself struggling at the beginning of my degree. In my first essay, I got a 2:2 which is by no means a bad grade for a first attempt but it showed me that my degree would be very different from A-Level expectations.

But don't stress! University is a level playing field which gives you space for academic growth. Top grades at A-Level do not automatically mean you are in a better position than those who got Bs or Cs. Not to mention that nobody asks you what you got for your A-Levels or if you got in through clearing. Your success, particularly in the humanities, is based on how much work you put in and how good you are at responding to feedback. You might not get the marks you are expecting at first- but that is okay!

Instead of dwelling in my own academic insecurity, I sought help to improve my technique and confidence. By my next essay I had visited the Writing Centre for help, read exemplar essays and gave myself longer to write and redraft. My next result was 10 marks higher. I have seen myself consistently get better over the course of my degree and I'm feeling confident about starting my final year at the University of York.

So my advice would be to remind yourself that you got into your university because you deserve it! Your previous work, your application to university all prove this even if your A-Level results couldn’t this year. And if you are struggling and need a confidence boost, there are a number of provisions to help you settle in academically such as office hours, department reps and your supervisor.

I wish you all the best of luck!