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Imposter Syndrome at a Prestigious Private School

And how it exists everywhere.

By Rachael Dionisio

Photo by Amanda Miller

Isn't private education part of the American Dream?

Well, it was at least part of my dream.

As someone who attended public elementary through high school - and even public college - before transferring to the prestigious and private Boston University, I was confused to learn that students often prefer a public university over a private one.

I wanted more from my college experience, especially after an unconventional, COVID-driven start. I have always struggled with acknowledging my successes, and thought transferring to Boston University would instantly improve my self-worth by offering a more fulfilling college experience; however, that wasn’t the case. Me questioning my self-worth has only escalated since transferring, but in a more unexpectedly inspiring way.

While attending my initial college, I never stressed over my GPA, nor considered the tedious internship search as a freshman. Out of discipline, rather than out of pressure to compete with my classmates, I joined clubs solely to boost my resume.

Looking back, it all makes sense: private school students typically crave the "chillness" of a public-school setting, because all they only know is the rigor and competition of a competitive university.

Transferring was the most challenging, yet rewarding decision I have ever made. However, ever since starting at BU, my self-esteem reached an all-time low.

I never feel like I’m doing enough academically or socially. I am constantly convincing myself that I’m undeserving of my position at this school. It’s overwhelming to watch my peers flex internship offers and promotions on LinkedIn, when I never held myself to those standards at my previous school. To add to my daily self-depreciation, I concluded that I am potentially the dumbest person here. If everyone is so academically inclined and career-driven, is my mindset supposed to be the same?

Every day I think to myself - I’m so behind. Everyone here is cooler than me. Everyone here is smarter than me. I need to get my shit together. I won’t ever reach success.

Every. Single. Day.

Ironically, my imposter syndrome at my original school was the same illness but in reverse. I always talked down on myself because I knew that there were students out there that went to schools like BU, already set up for success. They all had the opportunity and self-pride for attending a “prestigious private school” that I didn’t have. And I lacked that launch pad into a career, unlike them.

No, I didn’t stress as much about academic statistics, or my resume, or setting up a LinkedIn profile, because competitive stress was never a natural factor there, even though I always kind of wished it was. I craved campus morale infused with competitiveness and high achievement that motivated me, although BU’s students simultaneously tend to wish for the opposite.

I get it now. I get why students at prestigious private schools like BU envy the lack of academic, social, and professional competitiveness at my previous school. But, as someone who used to be on the other side, I also get that imposter syndrome is everywhere. There is always someone to compare yourself to, no matter what school you attend or what city you live in. The icky syndrome is hard to combat, and I don’t have a cure. However, I am more self-accepting now than I have been since being here, and I can confidently tell you that the person you are currently comparing yourself to is comparing themselves to the next cooler person. The cycle will continue forever, so you might as well have a little self-pride because you’re doing better than you think.


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