I have a weird problem. In one of my classes, I have a relatively good grade. However, for some reason, I feel as if I don't deserve this grade. I have this strange feeling that I "cheated" in the class and should have a lower grade. Throughout year, whenever anything that may be considered cheating happened, I spoke to the teacher and each time she said that it wasn't cheating. My main issue is that I will be applying to colleges in the fall and I am scared of getting into a college that I don't deserve to get into because of this "cheating." I am not sure if anyone else has had this problem, but advice would be very much appreciated. Thank you!

  • 26
    Check out "impostor syndrome". Jun 10, 2017 at 16:28
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    In the long run, you will get both to some degree better and worse grades than you actually deserve. Examiners hopefully can manage to keep the scatter below a reasonable threshold, but it happens (and has happened to me as a student). Don't let it bother you too much, and check the excellent references to the "impostor syndrome" - just in case.
    – jvb
    Jun 10, 2017 at 18:23
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    I strong disagree with the close vote. OP is a rising undergraduate, but the same situation could apply to graduate-school applicants, postdoc/faculty applicants, or even tenure candidates.
    – JeffE
    Jun 10, 2017 at 20:02
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    Without even an example of what the OP is talking about, I'm voting to close as "unclear what you are asking". What would "anything that may be considered cheating" be? I'm at a complete loss. Jun 10, 2017 at 22:26
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    Can you expand on what "I have this strange feeling that I "cheated" in the class " means? Sure, there are some grey area (for example, what kind of document is allowed to use for a take home exam?), but usually, cheating is a pretty active thing and you know when you do it or not...
    – Taladris
    Jun 11, 2017 at 0:48

1 Answer 1


I don't know your particular situation and can't look into your soul. Perhaps you feel that you don't deserve anything valuable also outside of the education setting. Then this might be a topic for discussion with a counselor, therapist or just for an honest talk with a friend.

But more likely, in particular if these thoughts are limited to university/college etc., you might suffer from what's called 'impostor syndrome': A more or less constant but unfounded thought that your success (in education) is just a matter of luck and has nothing to do with your intelligence or hard work or both. In other words, you have become used to attributing success to your environment and failure to yourself. Since most people around you hide their failures and emphasize their successes, your observations tend to confirm what you already believe.

This leads to fear of being 'found out' eventually, in which case you might imagine that your entire career will collapse like a house of cards. Irrational fear of having (involuntarily) cheated fits the bill. After all, if you are affected by impostor syndrome, you think you're cheating all the time.

But of course, if you are the kind of person who asks their teacher to consider whether you might have cheated, you most certainly will never do so. Think about it for a minute (and perhaps have a good laugh). The link above and other answers on this site can help you cope with impostor syndrome. But perhaps the most important thing is to know that it's a delusion.

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    Personally, I don't think it's even meaningful to speak of "deserving" admission to a college or the like; it's not a prize or reward. The college just tries to decide which students to admit based on their judgment of what will be most beneficial to the college (and maybe to the student). If they decide "wrong" it's on them, not you. Conversely, you make your decision as to which offer to accept based on what you think is most beneficial to you. Jun 10, 2017 at 19:21
  • @NateEldredge So, is there a Converse Impostor Syndrome where a department feels like it cheated to get a given candidate, and the candidate will subsequently find out and storm out?
    – E.P.
    Jun 10, 2017 at 20:27
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    @E.P.: Yes, in some sense - usually it would be called something like "retention concerns". If a student accepts an offer and then finds out that the program is not satisfactory for them, they certainly might transfer somewhere else, and this is often a bigger problem for the department than if they had simply turned down the offer in the first place. Jun 10, 2017 at 21:03

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