Imposter Syndrome: Adjusting to College for People of Color

You. To your surprise, your son is really struggling at his freshman year in college. Is it because
he's struggling with impostor syndrome due to being a person of color? Well, let's talk about
that today on Tips on Teens. My name is Kent Tussant. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist,
and I specialize in helping kids, teens, and families to live happy your lives. I lead two organizations
teen Therapy Center and the nonprofit 501 c three organization, child and Teen Counseling,
both here in Woodland Hills, California. Every Wednesday at noon, I jump onto Facebook Live
to answer your parenting questions. Let's answer today's. We are immigrants, and my son, who
was born here, is the first person in our family to go to college. He started at UC Santa Cruz last
fall. He did great in high school, but now he's really having a tough time with academics and
homesickness. I read that it's really common for people of color to have imposter syndrome
when they go to college. It seems like his

self confidence is really down right now from where he started off. Is there anything we can
do to help? Yes, thank you for your question. First of all, let's define what imposter syndrome
is. It's a term that reflects on a situation that pretty much everyone is confronted with one
time or another in varying degrees, where you feel like whatever your achievements are, they're
not good enough. The accomplishments that you have succeeded in, somehow you're not worthy
of those accomplishments. And if they don't already know it, everyone is eventually going
to see you as a fraud and a charlatan. And it can be really debilitating. Someone's self esteem
and motivation, increasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. Now, how that relates to someone
of a person of color going to college, I don't know if this is the situation for your son, but since
this is your question, it's a possibility that we need to consider. And why would it be affecting
someone of a person of color as opposed to someone

who may be white? And again, white people get impostor syndrome syndrome too, but for different
reasons, perhaps. So person of color may feel like they're disconnected from their culture.
Maybe that they're confronting microaggressions or not so microaggressions in their community.
If your son's 18, I imagine he's a gamer. The online gaming community is rife with insults. And
the more racist, homophobic sexist you can be, the more that is encouraged in the online community.
I'm not condoning it. I'm just stating a fact. So it could be that your son is being hit on all sides
by racial slurs, homophobic, taunts, whatever that may be. That may be triggering his sense
of lack of self worth, self doubt, and that could be increasing that along with being homesick.
Now, a college freshman being homesick is not horribly uncommon either. Are these all the things
that are contributing to your son's struggles with academics? I'm not sure, but it is a possibility.
What I encourage you to do is make

sure you're reaching out to him regularly, having regular FaceTimes phone calls where you
guys are talking with him, encouraging him, showing him love, not criticizing, not finding,
like how did you on that test? More of hey, how are you feeling? Are you approaching school the
way you want to? What can we do to support you? We love you, we're proud of you. That positive encouragement.
That unconditional positive regards. What we like to say isn't therapists also encourage
him to get involved in cultural activities at school, whether it be a club, an activity, a group
of friends where he feels connected to his culture a little more. Santa Cruz is a fairly diverse
population, I believe, and reaching out to the school, reaching out to message boards, finding
ways to find that connection I think is really important. If he's still struggling, possibly
finding a therapist in his area for him to talk to. Now, if you can find a therapist that has a similar
culture as his, that's a bonus. The problem

is our industry does not have enough people of color in it. We need more people of color in our
community, in our field. So if you are a person of color considering to be a therapist, please
go get your master's degree. We need you in our field. But even if you can't find someone who matches
his culture, there are plenty of therapists, myself included, who feel that is our responsibility
to really make sure we extend empathy and understanding and respect and just good natured support
for people who do not have the possibility of seeing someone of their own culture. And we are
very sensitive to that. I think it's very important. It's something that's very important
in our field. Not every therapist is going to do that. I understand. Just like not every police
officer is a good police officer. Not every teacher is a good teacher. But most people go in these
fields have the intention of supporting and being supportive and offering that unconditional
positive regard and that respect. So that's

our question. Oh, one more thing. Make sure if he's homesick, make sure he gets to come down for
home cooked meal occasionally. You guys go to Santa Cruz and spend a weekend, a day trip. If you
can find ways to connect where he's feeling connected to you guys, I think that's really important.
Anyways, that's our question for today. Thank you very much for your question. Keep them coming.
If you have a question you'd like me to answer here on tips on teens, email us at
Again. My name is Kent Tussant with Teen Therapy Center and the nonprofit Child and Teen Counseling.
And we look forward to hearing answering your question next week, Wednesday, noon. Bye bye,


Adjusting to college is a struggle for most kids in one way or another. Making new friends and meeting the challenges of college level academic demands is tough. Getting accustomed to being away from home for the first time can be lonely and isolating. But how is it different if you’re a person of color leaving your community for the first time too?


Lots of people of color or first generation college students suffer from “imposter syndrome” once they get to campus. Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that whatever your achievements are, you’re still just not good enough. This can be particularly difficult to overcome if you’ve experienced discrimination based on your race or gender.  We encourage parents of kids in this situation to help them find resources and mentors on campus that can help your children. Most schools have a resource center, and that’s a good place to start. Getting involved with student organizations and finding friends can help kids cope. Parents should also make sure to reach out frequently and check in. Be a place of encouragement, love and support and avoid criticism.  There’s more to say about it, and we stay on topic in this Tips on Teens: “We’re immigrants and my son, who was born here,  is the first person in our family to go to college. He started at UC Santa Cruz last Fall. He did great in High School but now he’s really having a tough time with academics and homesickness. I read that it’s really common for people of color to have ‘imposter syndrome’ when they go to college. It seems like his self confidence is really down right now from where he started off. Is there anything we can do to help him?”

Clinical Director Kent Toussaint answers your parenting questions every Wednesday at 12:00pm in our weekly segment Tips On Teens on Facebook Live. Have questions about parenting kids and teens? Send them to: We love to hear from you!

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If you have more questions or would like more information, please contact our Clinical Director, Kent Toussaint at 818.697.8555.