Am I Good Enough? A graduate student offers stress-relieving strategies for undergraduate and graduate students feeling overwhelmed by academic pressure. Student's Say
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Student's Say  |   May 01, 2018
Am I Good Enough?
Author Notes
  • Kaitlin N. DiCristofaro received her undergraduate degree from State University of New York at Cortland, and is a first-year student in the speech-language pathology master’s program at Hofstra University. kdicristofaro1@pride.hofstra.edu
    Kaitlin N. DiCristofaro received her undergraduate degree from State University of New York at Cortland, and is a first-year student in the speech-language pathology master’s program at Hofstra University. kdicristofaro1@pride.hofstra.edu×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   May 01, 2018
Am I Good Enough?
The ASHA Leader, May 2018, Vol. 23, 44-45. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.23052018.44
The ASHA Leader, May 2018, Vol. 23, 44-45. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.23052018.44
It’s not surprising that many of us in speech-language pathology are Type A personalities. You almost have to be in this highly competitive field. But, aside from the academic and clinical demands, an education in this specialized field can tax our mental health.
Many of us students—undergraduate and graduate—feel overwhelmed and anxious and battle constant worry about not being good enough. I know I’ve wondered how I could possibly become an accomplished speech-language pathologist. My inner self-doubt and worries have, at times, been relentless. Where do these feelings come from?
I believe these negative feelings start with enormous expectations of undergraduates. These can lead to feelings of worry and fear—an anxiety disorder—that interfere with a person’s educational, vocational, and/or functional performance, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Students are pressured to get the best grades as they compete with their peers for coveted spots in speech-language pathology graduate programs.
I’ve witnessed professors take advantage of those concerns, demeaning students by saying they would never make it through the undergraduate communication sciences and disorders program—and that if they did, they would not be accepted into graduate school. Professors would also warn students that if they did not have an overall grade point average of 3.5, they should either not apply to graduate school or apply out of state where schools are “easier” to get into. It seemed like classes were deliberately made difficult to weed out students.
When I began applying to graduate schools, I knew something had to change. I knew that with this self-critical, overly anxious attitude, I would not be able to competently treat my future clients.

Many of us students—undergraduate and graduate—feel overwhelmed and anxious and battle constant worry about not being good enough.

Hang in there
The stresses in graduate school are completely different. I no longer need to memorize a huge amount of information on PowerPoint slides from class lectures or worry about my GPA. But I do need to juggle schoolwork with clients, tests and projects. And I always need to make sure I am doing everything right by my clients and supervisors.
Even though many of us feel we have to be the best (and are trying our best)—and therefore should not be making any mistakes—the truth is we are here to learn. Applying your knowledge and skills to practical situations, as well as having your supervisors and professors supporting you every step of the way, is an incredible feeling.
Graduate school is demanding, of course, but after the first semester I realized that it was not as bad as everyone said it would be, and that it certainly was not as stressful as my undergraduate studies. No more competition, no more ridicule and less pressure.
During my first semester, I also learned that most of my peers from other undergraduate programs had experienced the same concerns, and many were taking medication to cope with anxiety. Peers told me about feelings of low self-worth, anxiety and fear of failing to become a successful professional despite hard work.
I randomly and informally surveyed 20 first-year speech-language pathology graduate students in my program. All considered themselves Type A, and 17 considered themselves anxious.
Most had anxiety as undergraduates. All said they tend to worry about school work and their clients. Six disclosed their diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder; five others had been on antidepressant medications.

I knew that with my self-critical, overly anxious attitude, I would not be able to competently treat my future clients.

Be good to yourself
As speech-language pathology students, we know that there is a treatment technique or strategy for almost any type of disorder. Here are some strategies undergraduate and graduate students can use to calm nerves and diminish persistent fears.
You are not alone. Everyone in your cohort or program is going through the same stress or inner turmoil. Be kind to one another—these are the only people who know exactly what you are going through!
Embrace and support one another. Bouncing ideas off others, talking about classes, going out for lunch, or chatting about the grief that a certain supervisor or teacher is giving you can help.
Form a study group. Discuss materials with peers before an upcoming test. Set up a Google Doc that allows multiple partners to work on a study guide so it is not as overwhelming.
Talk to your teachers and supervisors. They know what you are going through and understand what is expected of you. If your feelings of anxiety and fear persist, talk to your teachers and supervisors about how that may affect your performance. They will try to help you and can refer you to the counseling center at your university.
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FROM THIS ISSUE
May 2018
Volume 23, Issue 5