Imposter Syndrome In Low-Income College Students


Inadequate funds and resources lead to a misunderstood pain which some college students face daily. While many college students predominantly stress over education, low-income college students constantly dwell on finances and fitting in. As a low-income college student, your mental health often takes a hit, as you struggle with feelings of overwhelm and alienation – imposter syndrome, for those familiar. 

You simply must succeed to make the whole endeavor “worth it,” but you have fewer resources to help you do so than your peers; you work more and have less free time to support your studies, and you may live in a constant state of burnout. Even after accomplishing tremendous feats, you may believe you are undeserving of the notable credentials others have bestowed upon you. 

As a low-income college student, your emotional health is bound to suffer, weighted down by a combination of imposter syndrome, lack of access to resources, and the high stakes on your academic success. 

I want to instill a sense of relief by sharing new perspectives on low-income students’ pressure to succeed. I hope to convince readers they are good enough to successfully further their education, despite the intense burden of financial insecurity.

You have been fighting your whole life through financial insecurity, and there is no reason to give up now. 

Why is imposter syndrome such a big emotional hurdle for low-income college students?

Who do you go to when you are stressed out? For a college student, the answer often leans towards “parents.” However, low-income college students rarely have parents who attended a university, so who do they go to for help? Without the funds for a proper mentor or access to academic resources, or parents who have shared this experience, who can they turn to? 

Low-income college students have no one to shoulder their stress except themselves. They have no one to vent their financial frustrations and emotional hurdles, which leads to less time to study and relax because of the weight society has placed on them. 

Society minimizes low-income students by labeling them as “poor,” “disadvantaged,” and “at-risk.” These concepts feed the prejudice revolving around low-income students and the imposter syndrome within these students. The swarming thoughts of never being good enough suffocate low-income students until it impacts all aspects of their lives. 

The odds may seem against you due to the factors discussed below. However, there are numerous resources to combat your self-doubt and remind you how worthy you are of every achievement. Financially stable or not, your emotional health comes first because your mental wellbeing is the key to jumping over life’s hurdles. 

1. Can’t access the same costly academic resources as peers

Surrounded by classmates obtaining top-of-the-line academic resources, you may be asking yourself, do I even stand a chance? You are wondering how it would ever be possible to pay for extra tutoring, textbooks, online homework support, class materials, etc. 

No matter the amount of jobs you have or the hours you work them, nothing seems to be enough to even the playing field. 

In reality, low-income college students will never compete against higher-income students in terms of monetary resources. But, college students do not need to resort to costly resources. With technology advancing, there are an infinite number of routes to acquire information a student desires. 

By shifting your focus to overcoming your situation, the negative and intrusive thoughts can no longer harm your emotional health. The stress you are feeling from not belonging is hindering your ability to grow and succeed in college. Rather than latching on to the negatives and what you do not have, you must branch out and find the positives and resources that work best for you. 

While the resources below are generalized, you should always check with your university about writing centers, free tutoring from teaching assistants or volunteers, professor office hours, and library study groups. 

For free online tutoring/homework help, check out these websites:

For free resources, textbooks, etc., check out these websites:

2. Less time to devote to studies

Full-time college students take a minimum of 12 credit hours each semester. For every credit hour, students spend 3-4 hours on the material- in class or doing homework. And just like that, there goes 36-48 hours of a college student’s week.

Low-income students face a distinct challenge in balancing their finances and their studies because of the ramifications that come with their situation. If you do not work, you may not be able to eat, pay rent, get gas, have spending money, etc. However, if you choose to work, you risk negative impacts on your grades, social life, and mental health. 

So how, as a low-income college student, are you going to balance work and your studies? 

Start by asking your manager or boss to allow you to do your homework when there are no customers around. Do not be afraid to explain your situation to them. Your studies are imperative, and jobs hiring college students understand the significance of your education.

Contact your university and ask about work-study jobs. Work-study is specifically for college students in financial need who want flexible hours, and university jobs are prone to being open-minded about you studying while at work. 

Lastly, if you cannot work and afford food, universities and churches usually have food pantries to ease student hunger. Balancing work and studies as a low-income student will take a toll on you, but never be scared to ask others for help.

3. Less time to relax

“You can sleep when you’re dead.” 

Imposter syndrome guides one to believing only slackers have downtime. But, without a proper break from studying, working, and socializing, you might as well be dead. 

A few consequences of disregarding relaxation are a decrease in GPA, weight gain, weak immune system, depression, and anxiety. Sleep protects you from those consequences because it strengthens learning and cognition, improves your academic outcomes, and optimizes your mental and physical health. 

While the body is at rest, the brain sorts through the information you learned during the day and organizes the relevant information for you to recall later. Your brain makes these connections so that learning is attainable.

Your GPA improves with the cognition boost sleep offers. College students who get 8 or more hours of sleep have higher GPAs than those who get 6 or few hours of sleep. 

The hormone ghrelin increases when you do not receive enough rest, which causes unhealthy weight gain. Sleep deprivation harms emotional health by stimulating abnormal neural patterns in the brain linked to anxiety and depression- disrupting your body’s hormones and emotional processing. 

Low-income college students face enough barriers as it is, so implementing a sleep schedule is crucial for a successful college career. By tracking your rest, you can recognize your current patterns. Adjusting these patterns to sleeping 6-8 hours a night and taking breaks throughout the day will enhance your GPA and mental health.  

4. Fewer resume-building opportunities for low-income college students

Unpaid internships, networking, and family connections are gatekeepers for low-income college students’ futures. 

With time and finances being sparse, unpaid internships are impractical. Networking and family connections seldomly exist for low-income students because of their circumstances- creating constant agony of never feeling good enough to have those opportunities. 

So, how can you catch up to your peers? 

I believe the optimum choice is to conduct informational interviews. Find professionals in your field and contact them for an interview where you can ask questions. By doing this, you make connections, show your interest, and relieve your stress over financial barriers.  

Another option is searching for part-time jobs in a field related to yours. You can gain experience while getting paid. 

If an unpaid internship is a must for you, start by asking if the internship can be remote. With remote working, the hours can be flexible and allow you to have a paying job. You can also search for grants, scholarships, and other funds to alleviate your worries. 

Pressure and performance don’t mix

Pressure and performance don’t mix for anyone. But weighted down from the pressure to succeed, low-income students endanger their academic performance and mental health. The belief that a college degree is the only key to freedom from your economic status wears down your mind. 

You are not the only person you are trying to save – above all, you are your family’s hope. You are their safety net, and you plan to provide for your family financially when you graduate. 

To support your family, you must first support yourself. The main option to put yourself through college is to take out loans. You assume you will one day pay these off. 

But, what if you don’t succeed, don’t get a high-paying job on graduation, and therefore can’t pay back your loans? If you don’t succeed, how can you help your family financially when you graduate?

How do these what-ifs impact your emotional health and wellbeing?

Without realizing the stressors placed on you, these what-ifs produce anxiety, depression, and higher-risk decision-making. The stressors diminish the brain’s ability to focus on long-term goals. All contributing factors negatively affect low-income college students’ GPAs. 

As the odds stack up against you, you question whether to abandon your education or remain miserable overcoming your obstacles. Dropping out of college appears to be the solution, but your emotional health and wellbeing suffer because there went your one shot in economic mobility for your family.   

Low-income college students everywhere undertake the same what-ifs, and an excellent solution is contacting your university or community centers for free counseling. 

Transportation, embarrassment, and fear are valid reasons for not wanting to reach out to professionals around you. Instead, try a peer-to-peer network where students conquering identical hurdles to yours can lend you advice and inspiration. 

How can you reverse the emotional impact of imposter syndrome, even if you can’t change the situation that causes it?

Start reversing the emotional impact by acknowledging your feelings. Reflecting on the obstacles generating your anxiety, depression, and loneliness allows you to reach out to others about your situation. 

Feeling nervous or embarrassed to seek help is normal, but talking to others can change your whole perspective. No one except you sees you as a fraud. 

Keep in mind imposter syndrome is mainly seen in high-achievers. 

Clinical psychologist specializing in body image and mindfulness, and New York Times bestselling author, Susan Albers, PsyD, weighs in by stating, “True imposters don’t have this feeling.” 

Know your achievements are well-deserved. Try making a list of all of your accomplishments to look back on when you feel imposter syndrome sets in. 

Focus on yourself and how amazing you are. You are good enough to overcome any hurdle in your way.

By utilizing free resources and reaching out to others, you can have the same opportunities as everyone else. Speak up and show diligence in achieving your goals. 

Don’t be afraid to get rest and spend time reviving your emotional health. GPA is temporary, but your well-being is forever. Your family understands the pressures placed on you, and you are not disappointing them by relaxing every now and then.    

You are not only worthy of success, but low-income college students deserve success and self-love just as much as anyone else.

This article is part of Supportiv’s Amplify article collection.