Question/Proposal: How do college students view themselves, others, and the concept of identity?

The Concept of Identity- "How individuals or groups see and define themselves and how other individuals or groups see and define them." This most closely relates to the question, "Who am I?"

Table of Contents:

I. Introduction to Self Identity

II. Psychological Factors

III. Effects on College Students

IV. Difference in Self-Identity Cross Culturally

V. Survey

VI. Video

VII. Why I Chose This Topic

VIII. Conclusion

I. Introduction

The concept of self identity affects a person in almost all aspects: work, school, social events, etc. To categorize one's self identity you can look at creations, choices, values, beliefs, appearance, ethnicity, practices, hobbies, friends and family, interests, or possessions (Refer to Figure 1).

Identity circle chart.jpg
Figure 1 shows the different kinds of characteristics that may define someone's identity.

As a freshmen or with the start of every new year in college, an individual may want to recreate, alter, or better themselves. Being in a new place with new people, you are able to be whoever you want to be. A lot of this feeling of wanting to change one's identity comes from past experiences, especially from high school and middle school.

Do you want your peers and teachers to view you the same as you were in high school or middle school? For most the answer is no. When you are stuck with most of the same people from middle school to high school, people seem to define you and it is very easy to become stuck in a certain personae.

In a study by David A. Kenney, his findings "indicate that adolescents who were unpopular in middle school and who became involved in high school activities and friendship groups were able to recover by becoming self-confident and reconstructing themselves as 'normal' within a changing school social system" (Kenney pg. 21). This study goes to show that a person can change their identity, but must conform to others to feel more "normal."

II. Psychological Factors

There are many psychological principles that play into the concept of self-identity that affect college students.

Imaginary Audience- The perspective that an individual thinks "everyone is looking at me"

    • This principle was developed by the psychologist David Elkind

    • An example of this principle is a young adolescent who does not go to class for a week because he or she is so embarrassed from some incident that happened to them and they think the entire school is thinking and laughing about it

The Principle of Identity vs. Role Confusion- A person must choose among options of life and find a consistent sense of self

    • Developed by the psychologist Erik Erikson

    • Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self

Personal Fable- belief held by many adolescents telling them that they are special and unique, so much so that none of life's difficulties or problems will affect them regardless of their behavior

    • Explanation as to why teens take more risks

    • Teens believe that they have unique thoughts and therefore form an identity of being superior

III. Effects on College Students

Without one's own self identity, most feel as if they do not belong in any identity and do not relate with others. This is especially easy as a new student trying to find similar identities of their own in other people (Refer to Figure 1).

In the article, Finding Your Self Identity in College, Jung Park stated how one feels when coming to college for the first time, "When we find ourselves on a strange campus with new environmental challenges without familiar faces for support, we may, for the first time, start questioning ourselves, more critically than we ever have before." This quote proves that when stepping into a brand new place, it is very easy to lose yourself and what you are. Park goes on to say, "We can navigate through this challenge easier if we have a firm grasp on what makes us happy, what stresses us out and what our passion is." If an individual is able to stand tall and know who they are, there will be less of a challenge.

Park also gives advice on how a college student can easily find their own identity: think and feel, find inspiration, and define yourself. By "think and feel" Parks means that one should use both their mind and heart to control their lives, not one or the other. Also, to find inspiration you have to find people with inspirational elements who can offer strength, guidance, and support. When individuals define themselves, the are supposed to "find their North star." This means that one should try to find what they like and go towards things to help guide them in their life.

IV. Difference in Self-Identity Cross Culturally

In the United States, we may find consistent results with self identity through the nation. However, when looking at different nations, the concept of self-identity in other cultures can vary vastly. In a book by Clarke Simon, he talks about why as people we develop different identities between different cultures. He explains that although cultures have differences in race, gender, ethnicity, and more, the real locus of the problem is just having differences and the perspective of "them" and "us." Simon also brings up Goffman and his view of culture and self-identity. Goffman believes that a person's identity is about a persons biography. It is "unique to a person and individual" and there are signs that set us apart from others.

In the article Culture and the Self, Hazel R. Markus states that the differences in culture impact and sometimes determine a person's cognition, emotion, and motivation. According to the article, Asian cultures promote similarities and fitting in. American culture does not necessarily take a side with neither conformity nor individuality.

V. Survey to College Students At Coe College

Questions on the Survey:

  1. Do you feel as you have come to college that you have recreated or altered yourself? (Based on a scale from 1-5)

  2. What group would you categorize yourself into?

  3. What traits allow you to fit into this group?

  4. What do you think is the ideal age for a person who wants to change his or her identity? Have you experienced one yourself?

  5. If you could, would you change your identity? What do you want to change and why?

  6. Would the people from your high school say that you have changed? How or why?

Analysis of Survey

In the survey, question number 1 indicates whether or not college students feel that they have recreated or altered themselves on a scale from 1-5, 1 meaning strongly disagree and 5 meaning strongly agree. The average from the data collection shows that the number chosen on the scale was 2.8. When talking to many people who were filling out the survey, they felt that they had changed their identity somewhat but not nearly enough to completely agree with the statement (Refer to Table 1).

Table 1. Number of People That Chose the Number on Scale

Number On Scale

Number of People Who Selected Number on Scale











Table 2. Number of People and Their Responses to Questions 2 and 3

# of People Who Responded

Type of Group Category

Mentioned That Allow Them to be Into Group



Bubbly,Outgoing, Athlete, Involved, Friendly,



Geeky, Smart, Few Friends, Intelligent, Knowing random things


Not in Any Group

Having lots of friends, Many traits from many groups



Caring, Positive, Non-Snob, Supporter

I had intended for this survey to be open ended to see what college students had thought their identity was and what it consisted of: being on a sports team, acting upon a certain major, having certain personality traits, or not feeling to be in a group at all. The results are shown in Table 2. Also, question number two "What group would you categorize yourself into" was intentionally left very open ended. Most students had to ask me what kind of groups they were supposed to put down, social, sports-related, academic, etc. The most seen response, excluding rolling of their eyes when I told them I could not give them specifics, was athletic. The least shown answer to question number two was personality related.

Table 3. Number of College Students Who Want to Change Their Identity

Number of People Who Responded

Wanting to Change Identity (yes/no)

Why Change Identity?






Make less judgements, Become More Approachable,

Not over think things, More outgoing, Open-minded,

Accept myself, and Self-esteem

VI. Interesting or unique aspects

In the video above, the creator, KJ Adames, describes the video as "living in a world where everybody wears masks due to lack of self-identity, a brave girl encounters the truth that sets her free." His message is to don't let society define your identity, or to tell you who you have to be. For example, in the video, the girls wearing the yellow masks are depicted as the beautiful ones because the ad on the wall told them this was true.

VII. Why I Chose This Topic

Figure 2. How You See Your Self
Figure 2. How You See Your Self

When choosing a topic for my wiki project, I had more than twenty options to choose from. I chose self identity because I myself am going through identity changes and constantly see others changing their identities.

My first year of college was a struggle of making friends and adjusting to a new state with no family around to support me. My own identity had changed significantly to becoming completely independent: paying for anything I needed, becoming my own person, and taking care of all of my financial and college problems myself. Self identity was interesting to me because as a college student myself, I knew that I was struggling with finding my own self identity and was interested to see what others thought about this concept.

My own identity is still changing; my second year of college I am able to put more of myself in being outgoing and taking part of school activities rather than going to work or only focusing on school. Being in college is a very big test in life to see if one is able to balance the constant stress of having tasks to do, going to work to pay for bills, and having a social life to relieve stress. Figure 2 sums up how I feel about self identity after doing my research. If you change yourself to become more "normal" and to fit in, then you are changing your identity for the wrong reasons. The only thing that matters is how you see yourself and that you are bettering yourself, not for others.

VIII. Conclusion:

After considering all of the sources and my own research, I have found that different individuals do have different identities, but also individuals have a different concept of self identity. Students at Coe in general view themselves in parts of groups in school rather than their own personality. These groups include athletic groups such as sports teams. This response proves to me that students want to be viewed as what others see or what other students are involved in. It shows that most people do not categorize themselves with personality traits: caring, intelligent, careful of others feelings, etc. After my research, I do agree with the article Finding Your Self Identity in College by Jung Park. I believe his perspective is accurate about self identity and finding your "North star." Finding good people to surround yourself with is a great way to find your own self identity and develop yourself as a great human being.

Works Cited

From Nerds to Normals: The Recovery of Identity among Adolescents from Middle School to High School Sociology of Education, Vol. 66, No. 1. (1993), pp. 21-40 by David A. Kinney

"Erikson's Psychosocial Stages Summary Chart." Erikson's Psychosocial Stages Summary Chart., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2013. <>.

Holiday, Ryan. "The Imaginary Audience." RyanHolidaynet. N.p., 27 Jan. 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.


Clarke, Simon. "Culture and Identity" The Sage Handbook of Culture Analysis. 2008. Sage Publications. 8 August 2011.

Markus, Hazel R.; Kitayama, Shinobu, Psychological Review, Vol 98(2), Apr 1991, pgs. 224-253. doi. 10.1037/0033-295X.98.2/224

"Self Identity." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Nov. 2013. Web. 03 Dec. 2013.

MS, Jack. "Result Filters." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web. 03 Dec. 2013. <>.