Feeling Like You Aren’t IMSA Enough

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy || Source: Imsa.edu

In a school this competitive, it’s completely normal to feel like a minnow in a sea of sharks—like you don’t belong or someone is just waiting for you to fail. I want to say that we’ve all been there, but the truth is, some people just haven’t yet. And, that’s entirely fine too. However, I know what it’s like to feel like you’re drowning in the IMSA-ness of things and to think that you aren’t getting the most out of this place some people call home. 

Not Participating in Culture Shows

Culture shows are frankly an IMSA staple, and while there are only two now, it’s safe to say that everyone loves when they come around and also when they end. While they are an amusing and a fantastic way to make people feel at home, they can also be stressful and highly time-consuming. In my junior year, I did two out of the four culture shows and was dying despite doing only one dance each. Even with practices taking up a good chunk of your week, many people say culture shows are worth it. The truth is, you don’t have to agree. If dancing is not for you and begins to feel like a chore, it’s okay not to participate. There are many ways to engage with the respective culture without performing on stage. I remember feeling like all the time and money I put into coming here was wasted because I didn’t do more than one dance or participate. While that sounds dumb in the beginning, it’s a genuine thing to feel. And, even if you feel a sense of loss, know that this does not define your IMSA experience. 

Failing a Test

People love to invoke the idea that we are Illinois’ best and brightest and that we are the future. Everyone our age is the future. Everyone makes mistakes. I don’t even like calling failing a mistake. It is 100% normal and okay to fail. It doesn’t define you. It doesn’t affect your chances of getting into college (depending on how many you fail), and it doesn’t change your worth. I have failed every math test I have taken at IMSA. And, no, I don’t mean getting a B- or a C. I mean that I have earned below a 50 on every test. I felt the urge to drop out and quit for a while because I thought that IMSA kids don’t fail. Bullsh**. We do fail! All the time. And, every time we fail, we pick ourselves right back up. That is what makes us belong. So, please, don’t freak out if you fail a test. I’ve gotten straight Cs in math almost all my time here, and I’m doing more than fine. 

Not Doing Independent Studies, Internships, or SIRs

Now, I’m biased when it comes to this because I have done SIRs and Independent Studies for the majority of my time here, and I recommend them a thousand times over. But, if you aren’t in any and have no interest in joining them, that is okay too! In all honesty, they can be a lot to handle. And, it doesn’t make you any less of an IMSA kid if you don’t indulge in the resources given to you. The only thing that truly makes you an IMSA student is that you go to school here. If you want to spend your Wednesdays doing homework and taking a break for once, have at it! Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to take it. 

Going Home On The Weekends

I have stayed maybe five weekends on campus for the two years I’ve lived here. And, every single time I left, I felt like I wasn’t getting the whole IMSA residential experience. Sure, my circumstances are different, I need to go home to work to cover my tuition, but even then, I still felt like I should be able to do both. But you can’t do both. If you want to go home and spend time with your family and friends, guess what? You’re still an IMSA student. You still live here five nights out of the week. And, while you may miss out on fun activities, I promise they won’t matter in a couple of weeks. I hated missing out on small dances or trips, but I realized those don’t make me an IMSA student. So, if you want to go home, do it! Enjoy good food while you can. 

Not Being in Certain Classes

I remember feeling terrible about switching to AB instead of staying in BC. I had to take a gap semester, and Problem Solving, which everyone told me wasn’t an actual class. At least, that was until I realized that every course you take here is valuable in some way, and it doesn’t matter what math you are in compared to everyone else. Choose whatever classes are best for you and that will facilitate your learning. There is no point in struggling just to prove a point. Also, choose the courses that interest you! Just because other people don’t like them doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. 

Not Having Your People

Everyone single time someone brings up not having friends or feeling like they’re alone, everyone else’s response is, “Just talk to people!” We all know it isn’t that simple. It is okay not to have a solid friend group here. If you have friends back home you prefer, that’s perfectly fine! Or, if you choose to be alone, do that too! I spent the majority of my junior year without a solid friend group, and now I have one. Sometimes those things take time. If you want to meet new people to make friends, do it! And, if you don’t, that’s entirely fine too. 

IMSA is hard. Not just academically but in general. The best way to get through it is to change your thinking. Sure, you might think IMSA was the worst three years of your life, but if you stop and consider everything you have accomplished and learned, isn’t it a little bit worth it?

About the Author

Maya Holland
Maya Holland is a staff writer for The Acronym. They are a senior here this year, and aside from writing, they like political activism, public speaking, and finding the best quiet places across campus. If you ever need them, check out the library!

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