It all happened so quickly. Since April 1, 2021, when I finally committed to my university of choice, every time I was asked about my plans after high school, I followed proudly with, “I’m going to the University of Michigan.” Even though I must have repeated that response a million times, it doesn’t feel real to be here in Ann Arbor. It was more of an automatic reply, but now I walk through the Law Quad, the Diag and down Main Street and it feels like I’ve been transported to a new life. A common phrase circling the internet (and campus) right now among first-year students describes the stunning realization “when you commit to a top university and it’s actually hard.” It is no longer just a response or something to put in your Instagram bio. It never felt like the moment was ever going to come. Time felt extended 100 times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We anxiously sat and waited for over a year for the change and excitement that comes with being on campus. Thinking forward to life in college was a form of coping with social isolation and depression.
The Wall Street Journal recently ranked the University of Michigan as the No. 1 public university in the United States and No. 24 overall among public and private universities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, their most recent data from 2018-2019 indicates that there are 2,828 four-year colleges in the U.S. 24th out of 2,828 is a mind-boggling statistic to think about. This data illustrates that you are the cream of the crop as a student at U-M when it comes to higher education.
The Wall Street Journal analyzes and creates these rankings based on several factors. While rankings from different sources vary due to utilizing different resources and criteria, the Wall Street Journal adequately analyzed and included all the characteristics I investigated while researching universities for my college applications.
According to the Journal, “The WSJ/THE rankings are based on 15 factors across four main categories: Forty percent of each school’s overall score comes from student outcomes, including graduates’ salaries and debt; 30% comes from academic resources, including how much the college spends on teaching; 20% from student engagement, including whether students feel prepared to use their education in the real world, and 10% from the learning environment, including the diversity of the student body and academic staff.” While the standards the University sets as the top public school in the nation are impressive, they can also create an intimidating environment for students.
As we power through midterm season and calendars begin to fill with club meetings, deadlines, office hours and appointments, it is really easy to feel overwhelmed as a student at a university with such a rigorous curriculum. One after the other, new tasks pop up on the to-do list; it’s like running on a hamster wheel. Even though you feel you are pushing yourself above and beyond, so is everyone else. Every day I leave my residence hall at 9 a.m. and return at 5 p.m., only to head out once again and finally end my day after midnight. Yet, it still never feels like enough. Everyone around you appears to be doing twice as much and having twice as much fun during their free time. Maybe prior to college, you may have been the one who took the most challenging classes, participated actively in every club and held a leadership position in every organization. It never felt like an option to be an average member. But now, you are constantly surrounded by students who are the exact same. It is easy to feel the pressure to perform at 100% all the time and live up to this standard. Now, who rises to the top?
The Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” The concept of imposter syndrome is ingrained in our brains at this University. There are modules on Canvas before arriving on campus, as well as countless resources for support. The University acknowledges how mentally draining the environment can become if you lack confidence in your knowledge and ability. But are they doing enough? Despite their efforts, this feeling still stops students from performing at their best. 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career. There is a constant fear of failure as a student at Michigan. According to an article by our School of Public Health, Michigan’s annual Healthy Minds Study reported that “among the respondents, 47% screened positive for clinically significant symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.” In addition, many studies have uncovered anxiety as a comorbid condition with imposter syndrome and that high school students who experienced imposter syndrome feelings “correlated significantly with a history of prior suicidal ideation and attempts and depression.”
The University needs to break the silence and let its students know that there is nothing wrong with feeling inadequate. Feeling uncomfortable in an unfamiliar situation is ultimately a positive experience. It illustrates that you are stepping out of your comfort zone. Professors need to work to promote a comfortable classroom environment that facilitates discussion and encourages getting answers wrong to develop further understanding of the material. By bringing in successful alumni to speak about their own struggles with the fear of failure, it could help prove that even those who look like they have it all together, feel the same way. As a community, we need to become more transparent about how we are doing. There is no need to hide behind the perfect persona of the perfect student. Based on the data, we likely are all dealing with similar issues, so we need to support one another to not feel alone.
While being at this type of university may be overwhelming and daunting now, graduating with a degree from the No. 1 public university will set you apart from other applicants in the professional world. The expansive alumni network connects you across the globe. While the plethora of courses and organizations may seem daunting now, these opportunities are precisely what makes you thrive post-graduation due to the abundance of experience and knowledge gained. No other university can replace the spirit that booms through the Big House on a fall Saturday or the drive that exists in every student here. Rather than doubting yourself and letting the pressure sink in, take full advantage of every opportunity and every second at this amazing university. Through the staff and ambiance of this place, we have the tools to thrive and become the best version of ourselves. That is why the Wall Street Journal ranked us as the No. 1 public university.
Gabby Rivas is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.