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I started an MS in Computer Science program this Fall at a super top-tier university and I'm worried that I'm a bit in over my head. The program is extremely tough, and I'm nervous that as the semester goes on, the difficult courses I'm in are only going to get harder.

My questions are:

  1. Is it normal for new graduate students to feel very overwhelmed and discouraged when they first start their program?
  2. What happens when a graduate program realizes they've made a mistake in admission? What would qualify as a "mistake"?
  3. If I'm feeling discouraged and/or overwhelmed by my courses, would it reflect poorly on my reputation in the program to speak to my advisor about it?
  • You might like to look up "imposter syndrome". You seem to have a textbook case of it. – Nate Eldredge Sep 10 '15 at 12:58
  • @NateEldredge you were absolutely right, thank you for the reference. To anyone else who sees this post and feels that they're in the same position -- don't despair! As NateEldridge and ff524 said, it's very normal. My recommendation is to not waste any time or mental bandwidth worrying that you're not cut out for the program. You are. – 01010110011001 Oct 16 '15 at 16:12
  • Speaking from my own experience, it's turned out that I'm one of the strongest students in my program; which I was not expecting. Interestingly, once I stopped worrying I was an "imposter", everything started to become easier. Just be grateful that you're in your program, and enjoy yourself :-) – 01010110011001 Oct 16 '15 at 16:14
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  1. Is it normal for new graduate students to feel very overwhelmed and discouraged when they first start their program?

Yes, absolutely. 1000000x yes.

  1. What happens when a graduate program realizes they've made a mistake in admission? What would qualify as a "mistake"?

A "mistake" is admitting a student who is not capable of meeting minimum standards in the department (or at least, not now), and is therefore dismissed from the program for academic reasons. This is an unfortunate mistake for both the student and the department (as it represents quite a bit of wasted time, money, effort, and emotional energy on both sides), and so we try very hard to help students who are in the "danger zone" to recover and avoid dismissal.

Generally, a graduate program has very specific regulations describing how and under what circumstances a student is dismissed from the program for academics. In my program, this starts with a semester of academic probation, so students have some warning that they're in danger of dismissal and have a chance to bring their grades up. Many students do manage to bring their grades up after a probation semester and successfully complete the program.

  1. If I'm feeling discouraged and/or overwhelmed by my courses, would it reflect poorly on my reputation in the program to speak to my advisor about it?

In my department, it would reflect well on you. It would show a maturity, self-awareness, and sense of responsiblity that your advisor probably wishes every student in the program had.

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  • Thank you for your response, that is encouraging to hear. In regards to (3), though I do not know my advisor very well at this point, he strikes me as the type of person who would agree with you 100%. If it gets to the point that I think I'm slipping, I'll let him know. Thanks again for your input and time. – 01010110011001 Sep 10 '15 at 5:01
  • Contact your advisor before you get the feeling you age slipping. Your judgement will be subjectively biased and it might be too late by then. – JoErNanO Sep 10 '15 at 11:40
  • As someone who advises people in a graduate program -- yes, loop your advisor in fast if you see trouble ahead. It's lots easier to go to bat for you while any issues are still small, and it's also easier when you take the initiative to resolve them. I guarantee whatever's going on, we've seen it before... and if you're in a healthy department (yeah, "if," not all departments are healthy) we WANT you to succeed. – D.Salo Sep 11 '15 at 2:17
  • @ff524, going against the general StackX policy, I wanted to thank you for your answer. It was very encouraging and made a big difference in getting over my initial hump, I'm doing great in my program now :-) Thanks again! – 01010110011001 Oct 16 '15 at 16:16
  • @110100101110101 thanks for following up. I'm very pleased to hear the news :) – ff524 Oct 16 '15 at 16:32

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