ArticlePDF Available


Using data from 82 in-depth interviews with a randomly selected sample of college students, we explore how these students are forming felt identities in the following domains: intelligence and knowledgeability, occupation, and cosmopolitanism. We study the formation of students' identities by considering college an arena of social interaction in which the individual comes in contact with a multitude of actors in various settings, emphasizing that through these social interactions the identities of individuals are, in part, constituted. In using a symbolic interactionist approach in our research in conjunction with consideration of the social structural location of colleges in the wider society, we demonstrate the sorts of information and insights that can be gained from a nondevelopmental approach to the study of college student change.
Research in Higher Education, Vol. 45, No. 5, August 2004 (2004)
A Sociological Approach
Peter Kaufman*
*** and Kenneth A. Feldman**
Using data from 82 in-depth interviews with a randomly selected sample of college
students, we explore how these students are forming felt identities in the following
domains: intelligence and knowledgeability, occupation, and cosmopolitanism. We
study the formation of students’ identities by considering college an arena of social
interaction in which the individual comes in contact with a multitude of actors in vari-
ous settings, emphasizing that through these social interactions the identities of indi-
viduals are, in part, constituted. In using a symbolic interactionist approach in our
research in conjunction with consideration of the social structural location of colleges
in the wider society, we demonstrate the sorts of information and insights that can
be gained from a nondevelopmental approach to the study of college student change.
KEY WORDS: identity; college effects; college environment; peer influence.
About three decades ago, Feldman (1972) pointed out that the large majority
of studies examining change and stability in college students approached the
subject more from a developmental and psychological framework than from a
sociological one. Some years later, Pascarella and Terenzini (1991), in their
comprehensive review of the research on college students and the effects on
them of their college experiences, also noted the “overall dominance of the
psychological paradigm for explaining student change” (pp. 15–16). Indeed, it
might even be argued that some significant proportion of the literature comes
close to committing what Dannefer (1984a, 1984b) termed the “ontogenetic
fallacy”—the practice of treating socially produced and patterned phenomena
as rooted in characteristics of the individual organism. Such an analysis ignores
the underlying constitutive forces of the social environment, at best considering
the environment as an important but essentially secondary influence that can
*Department of Sociology, State University of New York at New Paltz.
**Department of Sociology, State University of New York at Stony Brook.
***Address correspondence to: Peter Kaufman, Department of Sociology, State University of
New York at New Paltz, New Paltz, NY 12561. E-mail:
0361-0365/04/0800-0463/0 2004 Human Sciences Press, Inc.
either facilitate or hinder some natural and desirable psychological growth or
“maturational unfolding” in persons.
The dominance of the psychological paradigm in the study of college students
is especially evident in one area of research in higher education—how students’
identities are affected by the college experience. Here the research is predomi-
nantly framed and interpreted in terms of the influence of the college experience
on students’ progression in identity status, the further development of their ego,
or changes in their self-esteem and academic or social worth (Pascarella and
Terenzini, 1991, chap. 5). In contrast to the many sorts of studies reviewed by
Pascarella and Terenzini, our own research offers a more sociological approach
to the study of change in college students’ identities. We look at the role of
college in the formation of self-perceived (or felt) identities (Goffman, 1963)
by viewing the college as an arena of social interaction in which the individual
comes in contact with a multitude of actors in a variety of settings, emphasizing
that through these social interactions and other social influences the identities
of individuals are, in part, constituted. We are not saying college (and wider)
environments are never considered in the psychological approach, but rather
that their consideration appears to be basically secondary. According to Feldman
(1972), developmental and psychological theorists or researchers who analyze
how students change in college may in part concern themselves with the social
contexts and social forces for such change, but their systematic focus is on the
psychological dynamics of change. Environments and social structural parame-
ters tend to be considered only insofar as they impinge on personality develop-
More than one sociological approach might be used in studying the formation
of college students’ identities in college. For example, the work of Tinto (1993)
and Weidman (1989) is grounded in a sociological perspective (other examples
are given in Feldman, 1972, pp. 17–19 and Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991, pp.
50–58). Our own approach is based on the one that Feldman— after reviewing
and classifying various extant approaches to the study of change and stability
of college students—designated as “life-cycle movement (certification and la-
beling).” This approach is similar to (but not altogether coterminous with) the
allocation/credentialing or legitimation theory associated with Meyer (1970,
1977; also see the discussion of socialization and sorting in Knox, Lindsay, and
Kolb, 1993). As described by Feldman, this approach, which employs a social-
structural analysis, concentrates on the distinctive life-cycle and institutional
context in which college students are located by emphasizing the societal func-
tions of higher education.
One aspect of this approach is concerned with the certification and presumed
gatekeeping function of higher education. Here, the focus is on the ways in
which college certifies students for certain social and occupation positions in
the world (usually of the middle and upper-middle classes), channels them in
these directions, and to some extent ensures them of entrance to such positions.
In the words of Riesman and Jencks (1962), “college is an initiation rite for
separating the upper-middle from the lower-middle class, and for changing the
semi-amorphous adolescent into a semi-identified adult” (p. 78).
Specific per-
sonality, attitudinal, and behavioral changes are not inevitably (or even rou-
tinely) discussed within a certification or gatekeeping context. When they are,
it generally is done in terms of how colleges, wittingly or unwittingly, prepare
students for their new adult roles in given social structures.
Feldman (1972) went on to suggest that as students progress through college
they are supplied with more than the specific skills, motives, and attitudes they
may need in their future positions. In addition, students have attached to them
“new and validated social statuses (in the positional rather than hierarchical
sense) to which the new personal qualities are appropriate” (Meyer, 1972, p.
109). Feldman connects this line of reasoning to possible changes in identities
of students, as:
[In college, the] individual student is incorporated into new social positions, after
which he is routinely motivated and encouraged to take on the qualities appropriate to
these [new and validated] positions. Moreover, as a student progresses through college,
those around him—teachers, peers, parents, and the general community within and
outside the college, etc.—define and label him according to the positions he hopes to
occupy when he leaves college as well as by the new positions he occupies in college.
Not only is he an upperclassman rather than a lowerclassman or a sociology major
rather than a fine arts major, he is also a would-be lawyer rather than a would-be
plumber, and so forth. In addition to (and as part of ) others’ view of him, he is given
opportunities to engage in behaviors that were previously either not open to him, not
particularly feasible, or not easily do-able (given his previous positions). As new social
identities are pressed and impressed upon him, and as he is given the structural oppor-
tunities to practice and enact their behavioral implications, the student may well begin
to conceive of himself as being a different person from what he once was. (pp. 13– 14)
The above excerpt implicitly suggests the interplay among three components
of a person’s identity: the person’s felt identity (self-concept), the person’s pre-
sentation of his or her identity to others (presented self ), and the identity attrib-
uted or imputed by others to the person (Goffman, 1959, 1963). Instances of all
three components as well as certain examples of the interplay among them can
be found in the present study. Of these three components, our primary focus is
on the felt identity—in particular, how the felt identities of students are affected
by their being in college. We are mainly interested in the extent to which there
may be something particularly distinctive about the college experience that
allows the individual to construct a particular sense of self. Thus, we are inter-
ested in the degree to which college as a particular structural location fosters
the formation of particular felt identities as compared with the maintenance of
prior or precollege identities. Forming “new” felt identities in college may
sometimes overlap (or blend) with modifying prior felt identities, but as much
as possible, we stress the former rather than the latter.
A person’s sense of self may or may not be altogether consistent from one
situation to another, even within a particular identity domain (say one’s sense
of intelligence or knowledgeability). In any case, the more cumulative or endur-
ing felt identities of persons are partially constructed on these situated felt iden-
tities, just as situated felt identities are influenced by the more enduring felt
identities brought to a situation as well as by the situation itself. In our analysis,
we consider both sorts of felt identities, although we pay particular attention to
the more enduring felt identities that students are forming.
We emphasize fur-
ther that our use of felt identities includes personal traits or characteristics (e.g.,
“I am smart”) as well as status or positional identities (e.g., “I am a sociology
major; see Hewitt, 1976).
In essence, we use the term “felt identity” in the
same way Goffman (1963) did, as the “subjective sense of...[one’s] own situa-
tion and...[one’s] own continuity and character that an individual comes to
obtain as a result of...[the person’s] various social experiences” (p. 105). Oth-
ers, such as Kinney (1993) and Snow and Anderson (1987), substitute the term
“personal identity” for felt identity. We have not done so, since this alternative
conflicts with Goffman’s own use of the term “personal identity” (Goffman,
1963, chap. 2).
Our use of the concept of identity falls within the tradition of sociological
social psychology rather than psychology (Weigert, Teitge, and Teitge, 1986).
More specifically, in our analysis we rely heavily on the foundation provided
by studies of symbolic interaction, especially as found in the work of Goffman
(1959, 1963), Granfield (1991), Kinney (1993), Lofland (1969), Mead (1967),
and Silver (1996). By using a symbolic interactionist approach to studying social
interaction, our focus is not merely on “actual” interaction observable only from
the “outside.” Rather, we study both direct and what might be called indirect
interaction among individuals as well as the social context of these interactions.
We do so in terms of what students tell us about these interactions and the
settings in which they occur (including their interpretations of these interactions
and settings). A symbolic interactionist framework lets us consider not only
face-to-face interaction between students and teachers, students and students,
and other such encounters (as described by students) but also the feelings,
thoughts, and interpretations of students as they experience college—say, as
they sit in lectures, perhaps silently admiring the teacher (or not), as they com-
pare themselves to their student peers, as they study alone in their dorm rooms,
as they reflect on what it means to be a college student, and the like.
As we elaborate in this article, we found that the college students we studied
were most likely to acquire (or significantly modify) their felt identities in three
domains: intelligence and knowledgeability, occupation, and cosmopolitanism.
In making sense of the data we collected, we did not limit our analysis to the
explicit self-views and self-concerns expressed by these students. We also used
as evidence the indirect expressions of their identities, as found in their descrip-
tions of their thinking and analytic skills, their vocational preferences, their
worldviews, and their cultural tastes and interests. By incorporating students’
emerging values, attitudes, and preferences into the holistic approach provided
by the sociological identity framework, we hoped to understand better the effect
of the college experience than if we merely analyzed the change and stability
of disparate individual characteristics. Further, the identity framework we use
has allowed us to preserve the insights of symbolic interactionists (and related
sociological social psychologists), which are not all that frequently applied to
the study of college impacts on students.
Our research is an outgrowth of a larger project examining the microanalyti-
cal processes through which college students engage in social reproduction and
social transformation (Kaufman, 1999, 2003). This larger project is concerned
with how individuals construct their identities and either reproduce or transform
their ascribed social-class position into an achieved social-class position. The
sample for this larger research, as well as for the current analysis, comprises 82
college seniors from a large northeastern public university (Carnegie Type I
Research University) selected to be broadly representative of the wide popula-
tion of seniors at that university.
The university is situated in a suburban environment approximately 60 miles
from a major metropolitan area. The university has approximately 12,000 under-
graduate students and 5,000 graduate students. Ninety-five percent of all under-
graduates come from within the state. Somewhat more than one third (37%) of
all undergraduates come from the county within which the university is located,
while approximately another third (36%) come from the nearby metropolitan
area. A little over half of all undergraduates (56%) reside on campus. When the
data were collected the mean high school grade point average of incoming fresh-
man was 87.5, and a little over one quarter (27%) of freshman ranked in the top
10% of their graduating class (75% ranked in the top 30%). Most students had
SAT scores between 400 and 600 for verbal (76%) and for math (70%).
The undergraduate student body is rather diverse. According to self-reported
data of all undergraduates, a third (34%) identify as white, a quarter (23%)
identify as Asian American, almost 10% identify as African American, 7% iden-
tify as Hispanic, and 4% are foreign; the remaining 23% identify as other (or
the racial/ethnic category is unknown). The population of undergraduates is al-
most evenly split between males (52%) and females (48%). Such diversity also
characterizes the social class of the sample of students. The modal income cate-
gory of their families (9.2%) was between $45,000 and $54,900, although 50%
of the sample had family incomes below $39,000. Conversely, a little over 10%
of the sample had family incomes over $85,000. A fair number of students
attending this university are first-generation college students. Almost two-thirds
of their mothers (65%) and slightly more than half of their fathers (52%) do not
have college degrees.
The students in our study were sampled systematically in two waves. The
first wave of respondents was chosen in December 1997 and interviewed be-
tween January 1998 and April 1998. The second wave was chosen in September
1998 and interviewed between October 1998 and November 1998. We used two
waves because we were unable to interview enough respondents between Janu-
ary 1998 and April 1998. Because college seniors selected in the first wave
graduated in May 1998, a second wave of seniors was chosen in September
1998 to complete the sample. Students in both waves were selected randomly
from a list provided by the Office of Institutional Research at the university of
all undergraduate students aged 24 or under who were citizens of the United
States and who listed English as their native language. To help ensure a reason-
able response rate, all students were sent a letter informing them that they were
selected randomly to participate in a study and that they could expect to be
contacted by phone to schedule an interview. Although students were not given
any monetary incentive to participate, the response rate was around 75%. Infor-
mal discussions with respondents at the end of the interview suggest that this
relatively high response rate appears to be attributable in large part to the letter
the students received.
To establish the various direct and indirect social influences on the formation
of felt identities, we used semistructured, open-ended interviews to collect de-
tailed information from students in the sample. In-depth interviewing was partic-
ularly useful in providing a forum for these students to define the social world
in their own terms (Denzin, 1970). We were particularly interested in students’
interpretation of their experience in college, how they saw themselves in com-
parison with other individuals, groups, and categories (social comparisons), and
how they believed others viewed them (reflected appraisals; Rosenberg, 1986).
In the context of a semistructured interview, respondents were able to be reflex-
ive, to challenge their own taken-for-granted notions, and to elaborate on their
newly constructed felt identities. Without allowing students to express their felt
identities and place them in the appropriate context, researchers may overlook
some of the nuances of the college experience and its consequences for the
individual. Our interview exchanges provided an opportunity for respondents to
consider retrospectively, through a reconstruction of events, how they came to
embrace the new identities to which they now adhere (Seidman, 1991).
The decision to use semistructured in-depth interviews also reflected a desire
to analyze the experiences of students who were embedded within a specific
institutional context and to allow for students to be studied individually in order
to recognize the objective conditions of their subjective realities (Louis and
Turner, 1991). Further, the use of in-depth interviews provided invaluable in-
sight into the students’ self-awareness of their identity formation. This method-
ology, however, is not without its own potential biases, since interviewing is an
interactive process between researcher and respondent. Although our work is
not a study of methodology—analyzing, for example, the potential interviewer
effects or situational effects on respondents’ answers—it is still important to be
aware of some of the idiosyncrasies that may arise when two strangers come
together to talk in a semistructured format. In such a context, the interview
process cannot be rigid; it is not like filling out a questionnaire where one
proceeds methodically from one question to the next. In fact, such questionnair-
ing would go against the richness of interviewing, which allows for an interac-
tion, even a relationship, to develop between two people. As Silverman (1993)
notes, we must think of interviews as interactionism—as individuals actively
constructing their world. Thus, following Maxwell (1996) and Dey (1993), we
attempted to limit potential interviewer bias while simultaneously allowing for
the development of the interactive relationship.
Each interview was conducted in an academic office, with the exception of
one interview that took place at a public library because it was closer to the
respondent’s home. The interviews lasted 90 minutes on average, although some
were as long as 3 hours. All of the interviews were tape-recorded with the
respondent’s consent and then transcribed. The interview schedule, which was
pretested on eight students in November 1997, contained questions divided into
seven sections: demographic variables, family background, indicators of social
class, occupational expectations, friendships and leisure activities, experiences
in school, and experiences in the workforce. The seven sections formed the
basis for our data analysis, in which recurring themes were identified and classi-
fied into 26 categories. Through empirical induction of the content of these
categories, it became clear that students, during college, either had formed or
were in the process of forming identities in the following three domains: intelli-
gence and knowledgeability, occupation, and cosmopolitanism. Clearly, there
are other domains in which identities are formed within the college social struc-
ture, yet in the present study, these three domains were the ones that were the
most strongly articulated by the students as being salient to their lives.
In one sense, it is not necessarily surprising that these three domains were
manifest because students were asked some general questions related to these
areas. However, they were also asked about several other areas in their lives,
which did not surface in the same way. Even in the three areas that turned out
to be of particular relevance, students were only asked generally about how
academically comfortable they were at the institution, what their occupational
aspirations were, and what leisure activities they pursued. They were not asked
to comment specifically on the effect of college on these three domains nor
were they asked to comment on the effect of the college experience on their
self-conceptions. Therefore, it was less obviously expected, and thus more note-
worthy, that many of the students specifically identified their experiences and
interactions in college as being important in forming their felt identities within
these three domains. It is also significant that students spoke of these three
domains throughout the interview and not just in the section of the interview
related to a particular domain, thus further reinforcing the importance of these
domains in the students’ own discourse. Although we initially focus on the three
domains as though they were completely separate from one another, we later
note in the discussion how they might overlap. In summarizing the emergence
of these domains, we would say that while we introduced the topics in a broad
way, it was the students who expressed the specific relevance of these domains
for their felt identities and who recognized the importance of the college experi-
ence in forming their identities in these domains.
Intelligence and Knowledgeability
The students in our sample told us directly and indirectly that college helped
them to form a sense of their own intelligence and knowledgeability. Since
entering college, students now see these aspects as prominent parts of their felt
identities. The formation of this self-identification may be attributable to the
myriad of college experiences and interactions that reflect the acquisition of
intelligence and knowledge. As we will detail, some of these experiences are
direct and explicit; others are more indirect and less obvious. Yet in all in-
stances, it is the students who have identified such experiences and interactions
as contributing to the formation of their felt identity within this domain. Unlike
research that uses “objective” or standardized tests of intelligence to determine
if college makes students smarter or more knowledgeable, our research looks at
how the college experience influences students to identify themselves by their
intelligence or knowledgeability. In effect, we are not particularly concerned in
our analysis about whether students are objectively smarter because they have
attended college; rather, our concern is with the extent to which students see
their college experience as largely responsible for making intelligence and
knowledgeability salient components of their felt identities.
Because college is invested with so much meaning in the larger society, to
feel worthy of attending college is itself significant for how individuals identify
themselves by these characteristics. Indeed, just being in college appears to
bestow on some students a sense of being intelligent and knowledgeable. Attending
(and for the students in our sample, nearly completing) college is a symbolic
marker that suggests both to oneself and to others that one has a certain degree
of intellectual competence and knowledge. As suggested by the following two
examples, individuals in college generally come to identify themselves as being
intelligent and knowledgeable, and such avowals are reflected in and validated
by the imputations of others:
Yeah I definitely see myself as different. If my brother has trouble with school they
[his parents] always tell him to come to me or to call me. They don’t tell him to go
to my older brother [not college educated] when this is just simple stuff that he could
do too. They tell him to come to me because I’m the one who’s in college. I definitely
enjoy that role. I like being looked upon like that. (Louie)
It’s funny when you meet up with a couple of old friends who didn’t go to college
you just look at them and they’re like so what did you do with your life. “Well, I
went to college and I actually got an engineering degree” and they’re like “Wow!
How did you do that?” So it kind of makes me proud saying I’ll be a college graduate.
In finding that students form some general identity of an intelligent and
knowledgeable person, we further discovered more specific manifestations of
this overall domain. Two of these manifestations, “thinking critically” and “talk-
ing smart,” reflect the formation of positive identities. A third, “feeling intellec-
tually deficient,” suggests that although college certainly can affect individuals’
intellectual identities the result is not necessarily positive.
Thinking Critically
For some students, their interactions in college produce a mindfulness of the
world around them, and they recognize that the world goes well beyond the
local milieu to which they have been accustomed for so long. For many students,
college expands the boundaries of their local existence and, significantly, offers
them a more complex way of digesting their experiences intellectually. Such
insights are not always comforting because they may challenge the student’s
longstanding beliefs in such institutions as government, education, and science.
As students move further away from what was their more unreflective and less
reasoned way of thinking, they not only perceive the world differently but also
may perceive themselves differently. The following example comes from a re-
turning student who points out that college has allowed her to interpret reality
from various perspectives. It has given her insight into a world beyond her
realm of experience. This newfound knowledge translates into a new way of
identifying herself as being intellectually different from her peers who chose
not to attend college:
As I’m getting more educated, it’s been a gradual process. It’s not because I have a
piece of paper, it just seems as I’ve gone back to school and I did start part-time, I’ve
learned to be much more openminded. I used to argue with my friends who had fin-
ished college when I was in my little sabbatical. And I thought I knew all the answers
because I went to work every day and they didn’t, and I used to get into a lot of
heated arguments. Now I look back at how closedminded I was and how I didn’t
know a lot of things. I didn’t know how to look at issues from two sides as I do now,
so it’s been a gradual process. (Sheryl)
We also found that for many students in our sample college has fostered their
perceived ability to think analytically and abstractly. One of the stated goals of
college, in fact, is to encourage such critical thinking, and there are numerous
studies that have determined the extent to which college succeeds or fails in
developing students’ critical thinking skills as measured by various tests (Mc-
Millan, 1987; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991, chap. 4). Less common are studies
of this intellectual transformation as seen by students themselves. When students
are able to recognize their own change in thinking, when they can point to
examples that suggest they no longer think like they used to, then such insights
suggest the acquisition of a new felt identity. They see themselves as interacting
in the world differently because they now digest the myriad of messages and
choices from a more complex framework. In essence, these messages and
choices must be handled differently because they take on new symbolic mean-
ing. Subsequently, the individual sees himself or herself as thinking and reason-
ing more abstractly as can be seen clearly in the following comment: “I don’t
think I have that attitude as much as everything is black and white. It’s either
this way or that way. I think it [college] kind of opened me up to looking at
things and thinking about things differently” (Susan). In the following excerpt,
a student offers a more developed instance of such an identity formation, in
which she demonstrates how her approach to thinking and reasoning currently
differs from her parents who have elementary school educations. Because this
student is a working-class female of Hispanic immigrant parents, the implied
intersection between race, social class, and gender may be noted.
Rosa: My parents make a decision because they have to, and then they just do
it with whatever means they have. Whereas with me being in school you
are taught to think a lot, and I think that making a decision is harder in
that maybe I’ll want to take these courses whereas my father would see
the direct path.
Int: How would your father choose courses versus how you do it?
Rosa: He would probably just say that if I’m going to be a doctor why would
I bother taking this art class or this theater class. Whereas if I wanted to
be a doctor I would say that maybe this theater class or this psychology
class might help me to talk to my patients. It might help me become a
better doctor. Sure I can pass the MCATs and be an excellent physician
in being able to perform all the procedures correctly but then can I talk
to my patients? So I would think of more of the abstract way of doing
that. He would probably say that there is no need for me to take this,
[he] would just take bio and chemistry and all that stuff, and the other
things would be a waste of my time. His way of life, of dealing with life,
is a very practical method. Whereas with me, sometimes I’m more cre-
ative, more imaginative, more the thought process before I would do
something. So it’s hard for us to understand each other when we get to
that level of the discussion.
Int: Why do you think that’s developed in you?
Rosa: I guess just from being in school. Not forced to major in something right
now because I have to. Being able to have that flexibility of time.
Through interactions inside and outside of the classroom, college encourages
students to interpret the world from a broader base of knowledge and in a more
abstract, multifaceted manner. Students are pushed to consider multiple angles,
to bring in other facts and facets, and to demonstrate a depth and breadth of
thought that is recognizably different from their precollege way of thinking.
Moreover, as some of the preceding excerpts suggest, once this new felt identity
takes hold, it is reinforced in subsequent interactions. As one student noted
while discussing his parents:
I don’t say this to be snobby, but I do feel like I know more than them, a lot. Some-
times when I’ll talk to my mother or my father they’ll have absolutely no idea what
I’m talking about. It’s not even this complicated high-end stuff. Something will pop
up on T.V. and my mom will have no idea what they’re talking about and I’ll know
what they are talking about. (Bob)
For students such as these, college has provided the opportunity, as well as the
environment, for the cultivation of a newly formed felt identity of intelligence
and knowledgeability that is noticeably different from some of their relatives
and peers.
“Talking Smart”
Social interactions play a significant role in a student’s identity formation not
only from the information that is being exchanged but also through the medium
of exchange. Language can serve as a powerful rhetorical device that individuals
use to construct and negotiate identities (Antaki, Condor, and Levine, 1996;
Howard, 2000). Students learn to use their language to convey to others who
they are, how they want to be identified, and to which social group they belong.
In this sense, while interacting with their peers and their professors, students
are engaged simultaneously in two processes: impression management and the
conversation of gestures. Impression management is the attempt of individuals
to direct the interaction in such a way as to support and maintain the identity
they hope to have imputed to themselves (Goffman, 1959, 1963). In order to
achieve this imputed identity— and to manage one’s impressions successfully—
the individual must learn the language and gestures of the significant others in
order to be an accepted member of the pertinent social group (Mead, 1967).
Through these two processes, the individual is likely to achieve a new felt iden-
tity, as suggested by the following:
Louie: I’ve definitely learned how to carry myself better since coming here [to
college]. I’ve expanded my vocabulary, “talk smart,” or whatever they say.
Int: What do you mean that you came here and learned how to “talk smart?”
Louie: You just hear how people talk. Coming from a high school it’s all like,
“Yo, whas up?” Unlike growing up back home where I’m having these
conversations with all Greek people and we basically have the same
train of thought. And now I’ve got Irish, Chinese, and Italian [students]
in my room [and] they’re all bringing something different. So if you’re
talking philosophy or religion you’re just talking I guess smart, because
you are learning stuff. When you’re learning philosophy and you’re re-
peating what they say and you’re actually giving your meaning to it and
it’s using different words like you just expand your vocabulary instead
of using regular terminology you might use a bigger word, a college
word or what they call an SAT word just because you know it or what-
ever, you want to impress other people. You chose words more.
Int: You find yourself doing that?
Louie: Oh yeah. I chose my words differently. Definitely.
Int: Do you find you chose your words differently when you are at college
than when you are back home?
Louie: [Even] if I’m talking with my other cousins about stuff and they are all
at a college-educated level then I try to talk smart. I try to make them
think I’m smart.
Int: Why do you try to talk smart to your cousins?
Louie: I don’t know. I guess it feels good; it does make me feel good. It feels
good that they understand me. And they also talk smart also and it feels
good to me that they understand what I’m saying. A couple of years ago
if they were using those words I would be like what are you talking
about? But now, I get what they are saying. I guess it feels like you
actually learn something here.
This excerpt provides insight into the transformation of this student’s felt
identity. He recognizes that he is exchanging a different set of gestures with
others than in the past. And the reason he is engaging in this new sort of ex-
change—besides college having provided him with the requisite tools and the
situational (or interactive) contexts—is because he understands that such inter-
active strategies are necessary to manage how he presents himself to others. Of
particular interest is that the felt identity of the student is not merely based on
a spatial location; rather, the identity of being educated and intelligent is embed-
ded in the individual’s concept of self. This new sense of being intelligent and
knowledgeable crosses boundaries and, given the appropriate audience, can be
brought into play outside of the college structure. In the context of identity
theory, we may say that a self-perceived identity of being intelligent and knowl-
edgeable can become a role identity that individuals bring with them into other
structural locations, so long as they can enact the role that this felt identity
reflects (McCall and Simmons, 1978).
As certain speech patterns and verbal expressions become a regular part of
the individual’s interactive repertoire, they may be less likely to be viewed as
an explicitly and consciously constructed component of the individual’s identity.
Conceivably, the deeper such speech patterns and expressions become embed-
ded in the individual’s discourse, the more likely they are to be seen as an
inherent quality of the individual. As the following example suggests, although
the student identifies himself through his language, and although he does sug-
gest that such identity reflects his college education, his race and his social
class, he nevertheless attributes this to an instinctual element of his personality:
I think I do speak in a certain manner which somewhat identifies me. My speech
patterns is a suburban white English in which my vocabulary indicates that I went to
college because the vocabulary that I naturally use uses words which are multi-syllabic
or very obscure words that very few people use. It’s part of my natural vocabulary.
I’m not putting on words to make it more convoluted. (Albert, emphasis added)
Explaining speech patterns by suggesting they are inherent might have been
anticipated, because individuals will often have little to say regarding matters
they have long taken for granted (Goffman, 1967).
Feeling Intellectually Deficient
In the examples given so far, the implications for the student’s felt identity
are generally positive in that the students are accepting of the new identity they
are constructing. True, some students may still be adjusting to their new identity,
and some may still have to work consciously to negotiate the boundaries that
this new identity incorporates. But on the whole, the students recognize that
what is happening to them in terms of their identities is to be welcomed. How-
ever, the effect of college on an individual’s felt identity in the domain of intelli-
gence is not invariably positive. For some students, college may have a negative
effect on their self-identification within this realm. As noted earlier, perfor-
mance in college is recognized symbolically by society as determining an indi-
vidual’s intellectual competence and knowledge. Therefore, if a student does
not do well academically, he or she may not share the sense of intellectual
accomplishment suggested by some of the previous respondents. As one student
noted, “this school definitely made me feel like I’m stupid. The classes here are
really hard I think” (Sandra). Another student noted that he felt comfortable
academically at community college, but when he transferred to the 4-year uni-
versity his felt identity of intelligence changed: “Academically I felt a little bit
on the bottom of the totem pole, you know. A lot of these kids in my classes
are just like, it seems like they are a hell of a lot smarter than I am” (Maurice).
Students who feel intellectually deficient do not necessarily identify them-
selves as failures, nor do they identify themselves as uneducated; however, they
do recognize that they need to alter their conceptions of who they are. Aware
that society bestows on those completing college some degree of intellectual
prestige, the felt identity of these students in terms of their intelligence may be
wanting. They realize that they do not fully measure up to their peers—at least
on the academic yardstick of intelligence and knowledgeability—and subse-
quently they perceive themselves differently than do their college peers.
Interestingly, students who find college difficult not only have had their own
felt identities affected but they may also be affecting the identities of other
students. Because students are in a social structure characterized by constant
social interaction, the production of their identities in college is, to some degree,
dependent on the supporting cast. As the following excerpt suggests, if the inter-
active environment falls short of preexisting expectations, then there may be
adverse effects on one’s perceived identity:
Iwas probably pretty happy [at first] but as I got older I’ve become more pessimistic.
I thought my experience would be different in college. College could have been more
valuable if I’d gone to a school with a better academic ranking, not really for connec-
tions and things like that, but I think that if you are in a pool of people who are
keeping me on my toes more than I think I would have picked up more and learned
more. (Michelle)
We see from the preceding excerpts that although Sandra, Maurice, and Mi-
chelle are all on the verge of graduating from college, they do not readily invoke
an identity of privileged intelligence and knowledgeability as one might expect
or, more important, as societal norms would grant them. Instead, as Sandra and
Maurice (and others like them) moved through college and found it increasingly
difficult and onerous, even as the majority of their peers found it increasingly
easy and enjoyable, they have come to identify themselves as academically infe-
rior. Even in the case of Michelle, who had no trouble making it through col-
lege, her self-perceived identity of intelligence is still lacking because she bases
her evaluation on the societal perceptions of the college-educated. As a product
of her interactive environment, Michelle does not feel as intellectually strong as
she assumes she would have had she attended a more academically challenging
university. In such an environment, Michelle believes that her self-presentations
and her exchange of gestures would occur at a more sophisticated level of intel-
lect and knowledge, thereby producing a more satisfying felt identity of intelli-
gence and knowledgeability.
That some students come to feel intellectually deficient calls into question
what seems to be the prevailing bias in our society—among researchers as well
as the general public—of assuming positive, developmentally progressive out-
comes in college (Feldman, 1972). Although college does attempt to instill in
students some degree of intellectual self-worth, such outcomes are not mechani-
cally ordered simply because the student moves from one grade level to the
next. In fact, as some of these examples attest, progression through college and
perceived intellectual identity may be inversely proportional for a certain group
of students. Indeed, one population that may confirm such a claim would be
individuals who dropped out of college because they could no longer keep up
with the demands of academic rigor (Braxton, 2000; Tinto, 1993). For these
students, their college experience may be damaging and may result in their
being stigmatized by some parts of society.
A second domain reflecting changes to an individual’s felt identity revolves
around occupation and career. We ask here what it is about the college experi-
ence that encourages students to perceive themselves as fitting into certain occu-
pational niches and not fitting into others. Similar to the discussion of the previ-
ous domain, the relationship between felt occupational identity and a college
education is one that is permeated by societal assumptions. Most people expect,
for example, that individuals who are college educated will more or less auto-
matically not aspire to certain types of jobs say, landscaper, beautician, or factory
worker, to name a few. And, indeed, most college graduates do not aspire to
such jobs. The acquisition of such an identity derives from the interactive con-
text (college) in which the individual is situated. This section examines the
interactions that make possible the links between college and occupation and
that serve to establish individuals’ specific felt occupational identities.
Peer Interactions and Felt Occupational Identity
As with the formation of a felt identity of intelligence and knowledgeablility,
a felt occupational identity is also formed during interactions with peers. Again,
one of the distinctive qualities of the college experience is that students serve as
resources for each other—in this case, trying out different types of occupational
identities. As the following excerpt suggests, students may serve as role models
for each other given one’s occupational strivings:
Carmina: Taking these classes you start to meet people that are geared towards
being a doctor so it just seemed like something I wanted to do. Most
of my role models are my peers. Like one of my good friends here,
she always knew she wanted to be a doctor from day one. When she
was born she wanted to be a doctor. So I guess her motivation and
ambition kind of inspired me a little bit to go into that direction.
Int: When you say your role models are your peers do you mean peers
from college or peers from back home?
Carmina: Peers from college. Peers from college.
Int: Why wouldn’t your role models be people from the retail store you
worked at?
Carmina: No one had motivation or wanted to do anything. Maybe if someone
had that. Plus they just went to work every day and were older peo-
ple. No, they were very cranky people, another day another dollar
and they would just go back to work and back to work. They just
didn’t seem happy about life. As opposed to when I come here and
people have dreams and motivation, they want to go someplace with
their life and that’s what I want to be, I want to be like that. When I
came here I got that focus that I always knew was in me.
In a somewhat similar vein, social interactions between students reflect the
intersection between the exchange of gestures and impression management. In
the following excerpt, the student points to the importance of her social group
in reinforcing both her identity as a future professional and the self-presentations
that will allow her to successfully enact and achieve such an identity. Through
social interactions, this student and her friends have created a social reality of
the occupations to which they aspire as well as constructed a corresponding felt
identity that has already become somewhat embedded:
Like we [her friends] talked about this and we all kind of see ourselves having the
same kind of lifestyle. Everyone kind of sees themselves as having a certain kind of
outfit. Like we talk about this all the time. Once you get the outfit you can figure out
the job that you’ll be okay at—which is probably backwards but they all kind of want
the same level of success and security. Some want to be doctors, two of them, and
another girl wants to be in advertising, marketing, law. So they are all professional
jobs that they want to go into and we all want the outfit. (Amy)
For this student, interacting with her friends allows her to solidify her felt
identity and, more important, have this felt identity imputed and confirmed by
her significant others. Although these social interactions are not part of the
standard college curriculum, they play a significant role in establishing who she
sees herself to be on graduation. The college environment allows the student
and her friends the opportunity to reflect on what they expect to achieve in the
future and how they expect to be identified. For them, the boundaries of their
identity are (or will be) established by their dress, their appearance (Stone,
1970). Through these peer interactions, this student and her friends specify the
social group with which they most identify and by which they expect to be
The significance of the college experience in constructing a felt occupational
identity not only occurs through direct social interactions with peers but may
also occur through a student’s indirect interactions with fellow college students.
At a large and diverse institution such as the one we studied, students interact
indirectly with other students as they walk to class, wait in lines to register,
attend events on campus, and study in the library. In all of these activities,
students have the opportunity to observe their peers closely, eavesdrop on their
conversations, and develop a general sense of who they are in relation to others.
When these indirect interactions are buttressed by direct interactions with one’s
friends, the effect on one’s felt identity may be of significance. These interac-
tions, be they direct or indirect, contribute further to the social comparisons and
reflected appraisals that help form an individual’s felt identity (Rosenberg,
1986). Consider the following example in which this student discusses why he
decided to shift his occupational orientation from teacher to lawyer:
Like the people [in college], whether they are friends or acquaintances, I guess because
this is a public institution more than a private one so you see a lot more people who
are, income wise, who are on a lower level. So when I interact with them I see how
they live, what they talk about, what they think, and what they complain about. Money
becomes an issue that doesn’t blatantly come up, but it’s something that’s always in
the back of the conversation somewhere whether they are talking about their part-time
jobs, getting their stupid financial aid application out of the way, or complaining about
the school bureaucracy. When it comes down to it, it comes down to money. So the
more I hear this type of thing, the more I interact with them, and the more I hear these
types of conversations the more I start thinking well, wow, I guess money is really,
take it or leave it, it’s an important aspect of your life. And I guess it’s definitely a
step, not the only one, but a key crucial step to achieve your happiness in the end.
Finally, interacting with peers also may influence a student’s felt occupational
identity to the extent that such interactions allow students to try out various
roles that possibly coincide with specific occupations. For example, the follow-
ing student identified himself as a teacher because of his interactions with other
students. These other students placed him in the role of (competent) teacher and
subsequently he embraced this imputed identity:
In study groups and talking with other people I could explain what it was we were
studying. I don’t know if it came as a revelation to me but people would always say,
“Wow, you’re so smart you really know what you’re talking about.” I would be like,
“Well, I’m just working these ideas through my head and by helping you it’s helping
me.” And I soon noticed that that’s what teaching is, more or less, that you are ex-
plaining to other people and in the process, you are learning along also. And it just
seemed to me that I had kicked around all of the other possibilities and ideas of what
it was I could be and could do and this one for me seemed to be the most, not
developed, but it seemed tailor made for what I wanted to do. (Scott)
Social Networking and Felt Occupational Identity
Another way in which the social interactions in college help form a student’s
felt occupational identity is through the opportunity for social networking. So-
cial networking is generally viewed as a way to make contacts that will allow for
the successful achievement of occupational goals, as suggested by the following
student: “I wanted to start getting involved in activities. College is the place
where you meet people who can help you out in your future, and that’s what it
would take to advance myself later on so I had to start with them. I had to get
something out of my college education besides a college degree” (Meredith).
Although we certainly do not refute this function of college, networking may
also serve a latent function for individuals in terms of their felt identities. By
making ties and contacts with peers and professors, students may not only ad-
vance their occupational standing but, additionally, they may form and reinforce
their self-perceived occupational identity. When one is surrounded by significant
others who share one’s professional aspirations, it becomes much easier to hold
on firmly to those aspirations and to identify oneself accordingly.
Networking coincides with the development and maintenance of interpersonal
relationships, allowing for the identities of students to be constructed, to be felt,
and, ultimately, to be imputed by significant others. If a student’s felt identity
is that of a businesswoman and she engages in networking with individuals in
the field of business, the dividends she receives will be not only in the form of
potential job offers but also in the form of an imputed social identity that she
desires. A concrete example of this sort of identity imputation comes from
Jimmy, who held an internship one summer on Wall Street. During this intern-
ship, Jimmy spent considerable time with his cousin and her peers and came to
form a felt identity coinciding with the one imputed to him by others:
I had an internship over the summer, and she worked right across the street, and I
would go to lunch with her and the people she worked with every day. And they were
just normal people and I can see myself working with people like them, very easily.
They treated me as an equal. They weren’t worried about what I knew or what status
Iheld. I think that they liked me because of who I am and the way I was. If I was an
asshole they wouldn’t like me. If I was a loudmouth always talking about this and that,
you know, these people are 27 or 28, working where I want to work and in a way I
looked up to them. I didn’t get a chance to talk to them about what they do, but I felt
very comfortable around them and I’m sure they felt comfortable around me because
even on Thursdays they asked me to go out and have drinks with them. This caught me
offguard because I thought that maybe they saw me as the young kid, you know what I
mean, and don’t do anything crazy in front of the young kid. But when they asked me
to go out with them again at night, it just made me feel very comfortable with them. If
that’s what these people do in that industry then I see myself there. (Jimmy)
Felt Occupational Identity and Participation in Distinctive Experiences
Colleges often provide distinctive or one-of-a-kind experiences that help stu-
dents form their self-perceived occupational identities. For some, one such dis-
tinctive experience is college-sponsored traveling and studying outside of one’s
home school. Studying in a foreign country, for example, often provides individ-
uals with an unsurpassed experience that not only opens their eyes about the
world but plays a considerable role in fostering their incipient occupational iden-
tity. One of the most pronounced examples in our data of this type of formation
of felt identity comes from a student who was accepted into an off-campus
study program in Kenya. She became aware of the program in Kenya from a
professor with whom she had just taken a course and who was a tremendous
inspiration. Although her original intention for attending college was to become
a nurse, she decided to pursue a career in ecological research after the program
in Kenya:
I decided to just apply and see what happened and to my disbelief they accepted me
to go. While I was there I pretty much had to come up with my own research project
and do my own thing there and in the process of doing it I enjoyed it so much. I
enjoyed everything that had to do with it. So that experience really drove me towards
that direction, to really want to do research in the future. Three years ago that wasn’t
for me. I think college has molded me and what to do with myself. (Debbie)
Later in the interview, this student refers back to the Kenya trip as not only
having had a formative effect on her felt occupational identity but, equally im-
portant, having really solidified her sense of confidence and independence. This
example is particularly illustrative of the larger themes of this article because
few places other than college provide someone the opportunity to have an expe-
rience such as this one.
College provides students with a number of other distinctive opportunities
such as hearing distinguished speakers, serving on college-wide committees,
holding office in student government, securing internships, and participating in
academic conferences. Such activities may influence individuals’ “possible self
as they pertain to the future occupation of students by providing examples of
what they might become, what they hope to become, and what they are afraid
of becoming (Markus and Nurius, 1986). These activities provide the situational
contexts within which a variety of identities may be negotiated, experienced,
and ultimately constructed. For example, Scott (a student mentioned previously)
attended an academic conference that had a significant effect on his felt occupa-
tional identity of being a professor:
A few weeks ago I went to this New Millennium Postmodern Conference that was
organized by the Institute for Postmodern Studies. And it did feel strange a little bit
because I couldn’t even jive with, I couldn’t even comprehend most of what was going
on but I like that feeling of kind of being in there. Of somehow being a participant in
that. And that’s, I think, part of the initiation into it, I see myself as being in kind of
that artistic, cultural community—you know, going to plays, going to museums, being
involved in that kind of world, that kind of community. I don’t really see a lot of
people I know as of now being into that. The people I see that are kind of connected
to that are the professors or students of the university. They are within that circle, and
that’s where I kind of want to be also, what I perceive to be rich and full of ideas and
activity. I see that all within that world. I just think of it as great writers, even going
to see them give a talk or a lecture. It’s that type of community that surrounds it that
is appealing to me. When I tell people I am going to be a professor within that I also
tell them I am going to be a writer. I tell them I’m going to be a professor/writer and
I say it in one breath like that. (Scott)
College as Symbolic Entitlement for Certain Occupations and Careers
The majority of students in our sample felt very strongly that they had the
potential to work in an occupation that would provide them with financial suc-
cess and social prestige. Most students pointed to their college education as
“proof” of this potential. Because they are in college—very nearly finished with
college in fact—many students felt deserving of a professional job. Taking a
“menial” job, such as a secretary, was not acceptable to them because, as one
student suggested, “I really didn’t come to college 4 years just to become a
secretary. I really didn’t have to invest so much time in school just to become
a secretary. I did that while I was in high school so I don’t really think you
need an advanced degree to become a secretary” (Tamika). Or, as another stu-
dent indicated, “now that I’m getting a college education I wouldn’t want to be
working in like a post office because I’d say I wasted all my time here getting
a college education for nothing” (Laurie). Such sentiments are manifestations of
these students’ new felt identities. Because of their college experiences, they
now identify solely with professional occupations; anything less would contra-
dict the persons they currently see themselves to be. This opinion is especially
clear in the response of the following student when he was asked about making
his part-time summer job of working in a warehouse a full-time endeavor: “It
really wouldn’t be what I was looking for in the sense that I made my way to
college, graduated, and then have to do something where I could of gotten it
coming out of high school. It wouldn’t make sense to me. I wouldn’t look at it
as me doing my best. That’s the way I look at it. And anything less will be sort
of a failure even if it isn’t” (Dwayne).
Similar sentiments are held by others who also believe strongly that, because
they are highly educated, they deserve or expect more than a job they did while
in high school. For instance, one student rejected a career in retail because she
felt that it would contradict all that she has worked for in college: “Yeah, but I
wouldn’t want to do that. I would feel like I wasted my time in college. I’m
getting a political science degree. That has nothing to do with retail really. It’s
just not something I want to do. It wouldn’t make me happy for the rest of my
life” (Ngozi). And, finally, consider this student who believes that he at least
owes it to himself to try to put his education to work before he resorts to any
fallback plans:
To me, if I have a college education I think that I deserve something better for myself.
It’s not that I wouldn’t do that [flip burgers] to get by, but to me that’s like degrading
myself. I’ve done a lot more work than to just come here and flip burgers or whatever.
I’ve sat in a classroom and devoted some of my time to learning certain things that I
should be out there relating to. I’ve got an education so let’s see what I could do with
it, whether it be in engineering or not. (Ted)
To the extent that these individuals now feel membership in a particular social
group and view the world from this group’s perspective, the preceding responses
also point to the construction of a publicly recognized social identity as well as
a felt identity (Hogg, Terry, and White, 1995; Jenkins, 1996; Stets and Burke,
2000). Because these students have accumulated several levels of education they
do not identify with doing nonprofessional work; the rules of society tell them
that they should, or at the very least are able to, pursue jobs more appropriate
for their education. Subsequently, as they have embarked on their educational
path, they are constructing an identity for themselves that locates them within a
particular social-structural reality as well as within a particular social group. At
the time they were interviewed, these students were close to obtaining their
college degree. As suggested by the preceding excerpts, their felt identities were
no longer merely self-avowals but were closer to imputed social identities that
soon would be further legitimized by a college diploma, praise from family and
friends, and, ultimately, a professional job.
In all of these examples, college provides an environment in which the felt
identity of the individual may be shaped. Through a variety of social interac-
tions, college affords students the opportunity to see themselves in certain occu-
pational roles and to adopt self-perceived identities corresponding to these roles.
Whether it be by reflecting on the meaning of college, exchanging gestures with
peers, or participating in distinctive experiences, students interact with the col-
lege environment and form felt identities that coincide with their career choices.
A third identity that students indicated was fostered by their college experi-
ences has to do with cosmopolitanism. Although students in the sample did not
explicitly refer to themselves as having become cosmopolitan, the extent to
which their cultural tastes became more sophisticated was noteworthy. More-
over, the students were aware of these shifts themselves and said as much during
the interviews. The thoughts and remarks of the students in our sample suggest
that they are forming a sense of themselves as being “college-educated”—
becoming individuals who are cultured rather than uncultured, cosmopolitan
rather than provincial. The realm here is that of a loose conjunction of aesthetic
appreciation, sophistication of tastes, and diversity of worldview. In a time when
young adults are lambasted for their shallow, uncouth, and even vulgar tastes,
we found evidence suggesting that college provides an environment for the culti-
vation of cultural discernment.
Most students going to college are exposed to a wide array of cultural diver-
sity. Through presentations in the fine and performing arts, days celebrating
national and ethnic cultures, foreign film series, and especially the general edu-
cation requirements that students sometimes bemoan, college offers the opportu-
nity to broaden one’s cultural horizons. For many, these and various other cul-
tural opportunities foster eye-opening social interactions that may form or even
transform felt identity. From the diversity of social interactions, students may
perceive themselves differently as they now embrace a new sense of a cultured
or cosmopolitan self. Oftentimes, these new felt identities compel students to
rethink their normative assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, and social
class. For example, one student noted his “culture shock” when entering the
university because of the environment in which he was raised: “I was not used
to the large minority population that is here. It’s huge. My high school had
maybe 10 African Americans, maybe 15 Asians. It was predominantly white.
My neighborhood is predominantly white” (Larry). While relating a story about
one of his classes where he learned about the Haitian community from a class-
mate, Larry noted that “he loved the diversity here” and “that people who live
here get such a broad range of cultures that they are living with that they actually
learn more than they do in actual classes.”
The diverse college environment that Larry finds attractive is not necessarily
standard at institutes of higher learning. In fact, Larry transferred from a state
college that “was all white.” Similarly, Shannon came to the university after a
few semesters at local private college and found her experience with diversity
I think I’ve developed because now I’ve met more people who are lesbians and gay
people and at Brookfield no one was out. Here everyone is open, and I think I get
along with people. Like I have a friend from South Africa. I don’t think I would have
associated with him at Brookfield, I don’t even think they were there. Here it is so
mixed and he is the nicest person. My family loves him. It’s weird, it’s weird in a
good way. When I first came here I didn’t like it because there weren’t any minorities
in my high school. I felt like a minority here. But I guess in the last two years here I
started accepting people more.
In the examples of Larry and Shannon, it is important to recognize the signifi-
cance of the college milieu for cultivating a new felt identity whereby diversity
is embraced rather than eschewed. Because their previous environments were
homogeneous, it was difficult for them to construct a sense of self that recog-
nized the benefits of social interaction with “different” individuals. However, in
their current college location, Larry and Shannon were compelled to interact
with students who encompass very different social worlds. Through these social
interactions, they subsequently were able to negotiate and sustain a sense of a
more cosmopolitan identity.
In addition to affecting the type of individuals with whom one interacts, col-
lege may also influence the types of activities undertaken by students. College
presents students with an opportunity to engage in activities that shape their
tastes and hobbies and, ultimately, their felt identities. Students embrace a new
felt identity that is both produced and reproduced by the college environment.
College gives students a breadth and depth of experiences that adolescents and
young adults might be hard pressed to find elsewhere. By being offered many
options, and by engaging in an array of new social activities, students may begin
to form felt identities grounded in new social interactions:
I think college is a big influence. I don’t think that a college institution will educate
you, but it’s a tool that you can use to educate yourself in a sense. I think that there
are just so many different possibilities where you can go out and just explore different
aspects of life. I mean, a year ago, I knew people that were putting together a crew
team at the University. And I’ve never rowed crew, I never knew anybody that rowed
crew, but it was an opportunity to go and do something different like that and I did
and ended up truly enjoying it and loving it. It’s great, it’s so great. You know, college
really provided that, the opportunity to do that. And it’s something that I want to
continue doing throughout my life. Same thing with riding horses. My girlfriend, she
rides horses for the equestrian team here at school. So she started coaxing me down
to the barn, it’s like five minutes away, to learn how to ride. And I went down and
started riding and again, I sort of like fell in love with it. I’d gone on one trail ride,
like a western ride, once in my life, but college provided the opportunity to go and
learn how to ride. (Joe)
Numerous other students in the sample also discussed the ways that college
influenced their choice of leisure activities. Some students recognized their
newly formed appreciation for art, literature, film, museums, and classical mu-
sic. As one student noted, “That’s just an interest that I started getting up over
the past two years [since being in college]. Like I want to go to the Museum of
Natural History, I want to go the Museum of Television and Film. I want to do
things like that. I just want to get into that” (Victoria). Another student noted,
“I’m reading more than I used to in the past. Things I read in my English class
if I like this novel then I’ll go read something else by the author. I also took
one ’Themes in Films,’ class and I’m seeing films in different perspectives than
I used to. I enjoy films more and I see them more than I used to in the past”
(Steve). Others commented on how they no longer frequented fast-food restau-
rants, preferring instead restaurants “with a more complex fare, that serve things
you couldn’t just slap on the grill yourself” (Shiva). Clearly, such cosmopolitan
identifications were not characteristic of all students. Some students still prefer
eating at fast-food restaurants and listening to the latest popular music. How-
ever, most students did experience some changes in how they identified them-
selves culturally since entering college. These students recognized that the cul-
tural atmosphere in college is different from the one in which they were (or
sometimes still are) entrenched; more important, they came to a self-understand-
ing that they relate differently with their noncollege-educated peers. A good
example of this self-reflection comes from one student’s discussion of the differ-
ent social interactions between work and school:
[At work] you can’t really talk about Christopher Marlowe as a dramatist to someone
who’s never heard of Christopher Marlowe. I’m here to learn, I like hearing this
information, I like discussing these things with people. Even if it is just discussing
potential layouts for the newspaper. I can’t do that with the people I’ve met at those
jobs. I’m thinking specifically at the job I had over the summer at the deli. One guy
was strictly interested in a sports team, and he plays on a couple of teams. Everyone
else was making sure their car was getting better and that we could listen to the radio
at work. Stuff like that. It’s not what I enjoy talking about. (Howard)
Even more common than comparing their newly formed sense of self with
that of their co-workers, students in the sample revealed the extent to which
they now defined themselves differently from their friends from high school.
As far as constructing a new felt identity—especially one that reflects a more
cosmopolitan orientation toward the social world—nowhere was this more evi-
dent than in the students’ articulations about broken friendships and new social
directions. As individuals proceed through college and their felt identity as col-
lege-educated persons becomes more embedded, they may be confronted with
decisions regarding the social group to which they feel an allegiance. Nearly
inevitably, the group lacking a more cultured and educated sense of identity
seems to be the one that is negated. The following sentiments were echoed by
many students in the sample:
I think that makes us different, and I think maybe that’s because I’m in college now
and my personality changed a little in that kind of way. School has an effect on me.
It’s the environment, it’s the environment here. I used to like to party a lot and I don’t
like that, I really don’t like to do that anymore. I’m more calm, more mellow now. I
go to museums with my girlfriend. Or say I would go home in the summer and I
would run into a couple of my friends [from college], and a lot of times we would go
out to eat or go to a movie. If it was [friends] in the neighborhood it would be like
let’s get a football game, or let’s play some basketball. Like I would never go around
the neighborhood and say let’s go out for dinner [laughs]. It would be weird. Dinner
to us is going to MacDonalds. (Stanley)
Students’ newly formed felt identities in the cultural realm are also inevitably
compared with the cultural traditions of their families. For the relatively small
percentage of students in the sample from upper-middle-class homes, the differ-
ences between school and family environments was not too severe. For instance,
Helene’s family ate only at “nice places” such as Indian, Japanese, and Italian
restaurants, and they “never had fast food or diners.” Further, her family regu-
larly went to major art exhibits and to vacations overseas. Being at college
served to modify Helene’s already existing cosmopolitan identity to the extent
that she no longer defined such activities as belonging only to the family realm
but, rather, as also becoming a constitutive part of her peer interactions. How-
ever, at a state university like the one sampled here, most students did not share
such a cosmopolitan upbringing. These students commonly noted how college
introduced a new cultural world to them, about which some of them expressed
ambivalence. Consider the following student’s discussion of his movement away
from the traditions of his family, his religion, and his cultural background. As
this student points out, he identifies himself differently than do his father and
his brother, neither of whom attended college:
Yeah, I’d say I’m definitely different than them. I start to question a lot of the tradition
they try to instill on me. I’ve even come up to them and questioned our religion. I’ve
taken two religion classes and I’ve heard a lot about other religions and I’m still
comfortable with mine. I’ve just had questions I’ve never had before. And it comes
as a surprise when I ask them this stuff and they come up with good answers, or I’ve
spoken to my priest, and I just want answers. I’ve questioned stuff that I’ve never
questioned before. The fact that they want me to marry Greek, that goes through my
head all the time ’cause it doesn’t matter to me. (Louie)
As we reviewed students’ comments about their high school friends and their
families, it was evident that the students were forming a new sense of who they
were in direct relation to their social location. As it turns out, many students
were not overly distressed about distancing themselves from their old friends—
although they were not nearly as comfortable distinguishing themselves from
their family—because of the new way in which they identified themselves. In
essence, the students’ new felt identity is responsible for their questioning, if
not rejecting, the less cosmopolitan social group in favor of more cosmopolitan
social group. At the same time, having the new felt identity allows the students
to feel comfortable in their decision. Because their new felt identity is reinforced
by the college environment, it is easier for them to feel that their actions are
validated. The students find themselves in what Rosenberg (1986) calls a “con-
sonant” environment—an environment that offers individuals a positive ap-
Our study of the felt identities that students form in college differs from most
studies in this area. In reviewing the research on the impact of college on stu-
dents’ identities, Pascarella and Terenzini (1991) focus on student change in
what they call the “self-system,” which encompasses sense of self, personal
identity, ego development, self-concept, and self esteem (p. 201). With respect
to overall student change in this area during the college years, their general
finding is:
with the exception of the evidence relating to ego stage development (where the find-
ings are mixed), the research on identity development, academic and social self-concept,
and self-esteem consistently indicates that students, as a group, change during the
college years. Students successfully resolve identity-related issues, become more posi-
tive about their academic and social competencies, and develop a greater sense of self-
worth and value. (p. 202)
Although we, too, have studied the sense of selves that students form during
their college years, we have not done so within the psychological or develop-
mental point of view explicitly and implicitly suggested in this passage.
Using a sociological perspective, our research has shown that the experience
of college plays an important constitutive role in forming the felt identities of
students. We looked at three domains—intelligence and knowledgeability, occu-
pation, and cosmopolitanism—in which college students were especially likely
to acquire (or significantly modify) felt identities. We explored how college
helps students develop a sense of their own intelligence and knowledgeability,
which includes the process of thinking critically and “talking smart.” College
also affords students the opportunity to see themselves in certain occupational
roles. Whether, for example, by reflecting on the meaning of college or exchang-
ing gestures with peers, students interact with the college environment and form
a felt identity that coincides with their career choices. Finally, because of the
many opportunities to sample a diversity of events and activities, students have
the opportunity to form a sense of who they are and what they like to do cultur-
ally that is different from their precollege days: they form a new cosmopolitan
That the domains in which felt identities were most likely to be affected in
college were intelligence and knowledgeability, occupation, and cosmopolitan-
ism is hardly surprising. These three domains are obviously among the areas
that students, parents, college teachers and administrators, and others in the
wider society believe will be affected by experiences in college. Indeed, these
areas have received extensive attention in the research literature on college,
albeit in terms somewhat different from the present study. The emphasis gener-
ally has been on the change (or stability) in various and disparate traits and
characteristics of students rather than in the formation (and modification) of
their felt identities in these areas. Thus, typical studies in the area of intelligence
and knowledgeability have explored the extent to which students during their
college years change in both their general and specific subject matter knowl-
edge, in their oral and written communication skills, in their ability to reason
abstractly, in their use of evidence to address ill-structured problems for which
there are nonverifiably correct answers, in their intellectual flexibility in under-
standing more than one side of an issue, and in their development of more
sophisticated abstract frameworks to deal with complexity (Pascarella and Ter-
enzini, 1991, chs. 3, 4). In the occupational area, studies typically have been
concerned with the career choice and development of students in terms of col-
leges’ impact on their career maturity: “operationally defined...[in] reference
to the extent to which the individual has accomplished career developmental
tasks, preferred occupation (opportunities, financial returns, training require-
ments, and the like), and the degree of certainty about and planning for one’s
career choice” (Pascarella and Terenzini, ch. 5, p. 425). Research on how col-
lege affects the degree of students’ cosmopolitanism are subsumed under the
many studies of students’ changes in certain psychosocial characteristics and in
their various cultural, aesthetic, social, political, educational, and religious atti-
tudes and values (Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991, chs. 6, 7).
Our study differs from much of this research. In these areas of change and
stability, the focus of extant studies has generally been on the more objectively
established characteristics of students (and change or stability therein) as deter-
mined through the use of standardized tests of abilities, knowledge and interests,
psychometric assessments of psychological traits, multi-item scales and indica-
tors of attitudes and values, single questionnaire items about opinions, or the
like. Much less attention has been paid to the subjective sense of identity that
students are forming of themselves in these domains, which has been our focus.
Although the domains of change may be familiar, our research on the self-aware-
ness, intentionality, and deliberateness of students in forming and modifying
their felt identities in these domains as a result of being in college—and the
ways they go about doing so— adds to our understanding of the college experi-
ence. Moreover, in having students talk about themselves and how being in
college has affected them, elements that have heretofore been little noted in the
college literature have emerged, such as “talking smart” and a sense of symbolic
Although not all respondents in our study evidenced the formation of identi-
ties in all three domains or, for that matter, in any one of them, these were the
domains to which students most commonly referred. Further, although we have
only limited data from transfer students who experienced multiple college mi-
lieus, we would not be surprised to find, for example, that students at a research
university may have domains of newly formed self-perceived identity that differ
from those of students, say, at a community college. And even within the same
domain, significant differences might be found. In other words, students at a
research university, for instance, may have different self-perceived occupational
identities than do students at a community college (or some other category of
college or university). If these situational effects do indeed exist, they would
lend further support to the usefulness of taking a more sociological perspective
in studying change in college students’ felt identities.
As would be expected, we found that an important factor in studying how the
college experience affects students’ felt identities was the background of the
students, particularly their social class, race/ethnicity, and gender. Although it
was not the intent of our research to study systematically the effect these three
variables may have on the formation of students’ felt identities, it is clear that
these variables are significant. Throughout our analysis, we did call attention to
these background factors whenever doing so seemed important to understanding
the particulars of students’ formation of their felt identities in the domains we
studied. At a very basic sociological level, we must recognize that race, social
class, and gender are constitutive forces of the social environment and conse-
quently affect social interactions. Even if individuals themselves do not always
acknowledge the effects of race, social class, and gender, these three variables
are still relevant to the production of felt identities to the extent that such vari-
ables impact the microinteractions of daily life. Moreover, the process through
which college affects an individual’s felt identity of race, social class, and gen-
der—as well as the process through which these three variables themselves
affect an individual’s college experience—is an important topic in its own right
that has received considerable attention (Dews and Law, 1995; Ethier and
Deaux, 1994; Feagin, Vera, and Imani, 1996; Holland and Eisenhart, 1990;
Padilla, 1997; Stewart and Ostrove, 1993).
As part of our sociological perspective, we have used a symbolic interaction-
ist approach in studying college student change, although not exclusively so.
Other studies, of course, have used this particular approach to study how stu-
dents’ experiences in postsecondary education affect the various components of
their identity, although the genre of such studies is not large. We might mention
here two of the more interesting studies in the area, those by Silver (1996) and
Granfield (1991). In exploring how physical objects play a central role in stu-
dents’ construction of their identities, Silver showed how students at one univer-
sity made strategic choices about which objects to leave at home as anchors of
prior identities and which ones to bring to school as markers of new identities.
Granfield studied upward mobility among working-class law students by exam-
ining their adjustment to an elite law school. He found that these students
learned to hide their class background in order to manage their identity. He
showed how these students had difficultly in transcending their previous identi-
ties and experienced “identity ambivalence,” which they resolved by employing
particular types of strategies to help manage their identities.
In using a symbolic interactionist approach in our research in conjunction
with consideration of the social structural location of colleges in the wider soci-
ety, we have not conceived our study nor interpreted its results in terms of how
students do or do not “develop” in college. Rather, our focus has been on the
extent to which the social environment impacts the formation of individual felt
identity. We have not analyzed the process through which college students
change as the result of some inherent developmental unfolding, which may (or
may not) be influenced by the social environment. But neither have we viewed
student change as a mechanical, unthinking response to the pressures of the
external environment. Rather, we adopted an interactionist perspective and pos-
ited college student change as an active and constructed process. By doing so,
two important themes have emerged.
First, student change is neither scripted nor fixed. Among both individuals
and institutions of higher learning, variability exists. Because the construction
of new identities is dependent on the participants of social interaction and the
environment where such interactions take place, it is fair to say that there will
be some variance when it comes to college students’ formation of their felt
identities. In our sample, it was clear— and not especially unexpectedthat not
all students demonstrated changes within all three domains; as noted, some
formed new felt identities in one or more of these areas and some did not.
Further, some students came to college with their felt identities in one or more
of the domains already partially formed. Although our focus was on the sub-
group of individuals who were forming new felt identities in these areas, for a
fuller understanding of how colleges affect students’ identities future work
might well examine students whose felt identities remain only partially formed
or even unformed in these areas.
Second, and somewhat related, it became clear through our research that some
aspects of each domain may be found within the others. That is, the three do-
mains partially overlap. Although the domains are thus not mutually exclusive,
they have been presented here in distinct categories for the sake of analytical
explication (but not theoretical reification). In practice, for example, certain stu-
dents saying they wanted a career that uses their mind suggests both a particular
occupational identity as well as their need for and identification with intelli-
gence. Similarly, when some students commented on their new form of abstract,
critical thought, this change was implicitly (if not explicitly) linked to embracing
diversity—both in terms of social interactions and social activities. College is
hardly a static milieu in which meaning is created and transmitted in compart-
mentalized locales. Rather, college is an arena of significant boundary crossing
in which individuals are engaged constantly in the construction of their felt
identities. As the interactive setting shifts from the classroom to the dorm room
to the auditorium, it is to be expected that aspects of students’ identity domains
will be produced and reproduced in each place.
In studying the constitutive role of college experiences on students’ felt iden-
tities, we found that the sources of college effects varied. As we have noted
throughout our analysis, a variety of processes and mechanisms are involved:
face-to-face interactions in which imputed identities occur; reflected appraisal
by the student him- or herself; social comparisons made by the students whether
in the presence of others or not; and emulation of role models. Relevant here is
another mechanism by which colleges and universities influence students (in-
cluding their felt identities)—the existence or operation of the schools’ “char-
ters” (Meyer, 1972). As Meyer (1970) has written, the “power of a socializing
organization or class of organizations to transform students depends on the in-
crease in social value and the type of social position which it is chartered to
confer on them” (p. 568). Elsewhere, Meyer (1977) not only proposes that “stu-
dents tend to adopt personal and social qualities appropriate to the positions to
which schools are chartered to assign them” (p. 60), but further maintains that
the mere chartering of an institution as a school itself produces effects on stu-
dents (p. 61). In terms of the present research, we would say that the chartering
effects typically expected at any college or university indeed were at play at the
university we studied and were one source of effects on students’ felt identities.
As an indicator of the existence of such effects were the students’ discussion of
how they saw the university as being a place that would confer on them certain
social benefits and lead to certain valued social positions once they graduated.
A final comment about our research stems from Feldman’s (1972) contention
that studies of the development of college students often seem to embrace a bias
toward progress and betterment. The underlying assumption in many develop-
mental studies (and arguably in the general populace as well) is that college
makes the individual a better person, a more mature person, a more responsible
person, and the like. Because much of the research based on a developmental
theory of change is not neutral, evidence tends to be interpreted in develop-
mental terms as reflecting movement toward a more advanced stage of growth,
even when the changes are not in theoretically expected directions and the con-
clusion of advanced growth is not ineluctably warranted (examples are given in
Feldman, 1972, as well as in Feldman and Newcomb, 1969, Appendix C). In
addition to “psychologizing” student change, the developmental view runs the
risk of ignoring a variety of changes that college students experience. That is,
some of the imputed or actual changes in students—prompted by their social
interactions in college and their moving into new social and preoccupational
positions in college or by their anticipation of future roles— may imply little or
nothing about psychological development. These changes may simply lie out-
side the developmental (growth) framework. An important goal, then, of the
present research has been to demonstrate the type of information and insights
that can be gained from a nondevelopmental approach to the study of college
student change.
We would like to acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions of sev-
eral anonymous reviewers of this manuscript as it progressed through its various
stages of completion.
1. For a more tempered and nuanced view of the gatekeeping function of higher education, see
Jencks (1968, especially p. 284).
2. Although distinguishing between self-representations that are relatively enduring, cumulative, or
trans-situational and those that are more transitory and situational is common, the names given
to these two kinds of felt identities in the literature are anything but standard. Thus, (enduring)
“self-images” are distinguished from (transitory or situational) “self-percepts” by Smith (1968),
whereas, contradictorily, Turner (1968) calls the more cumulative sense of self, “self-concep-
tion,” and the more situational and transitory sense of self, “self-image.” Some other names for
roughly the same distinction are “ideal self” versus “situational self ” (McCall and Simmons,
1978) and “biographical self” versus “situated self ” (Hewitt, 1976).
3. In addition, our approach simultaneously considers identity theory’s focus on roles (McCall and
Simmons, 1978; Stryker and Burke, 2000; Stryker and Serpe, 1982) and social identity theory’s
focus on group categorization (Hogg and Abrams, 1988; Jenkins, 1996; Turner, Hogg, Oakes,
Reicher, and Wetherell., 1987). Our analysis supports the suggestion by Stets and Burke that
these two theories can be linked usefully in both empirical analysis and theoretical abstraction
as part of a general theory of the self.
4. All names have been changed.
5. To the extent that our conception of a cosmopolitan identity incorporates the attitudes, prefer-
ences, and behaviors of particular groups, our definition is akin to the notion of cultural capital
as developed by Bourdieu and others (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990; DiMaggio, 1982; Lamont
and Lareau, 1988). Where we differ is not having explicitly applied the idea of cultural capital
as a tool for social and cultural exclusion. Although we agree that the acquisition of cultural
capital, as well as a cosmopolitan identity, may produce and maintain stratifying effects, our
intent is not to explicate the process through which such social ordering occurs. Our focus is not
on the extent to which individuals embrace these identities as a means to gaining access in higher
status groups. Rather, as with our discussion of the two other identity domains, we have been
interested in the degree to which students acknowledge that the college environment fosters the
formation of a cosmopolitan identity through opportunities for social interaction.
6. Like the vast bulk of studies on college students, our research does not have a control group of
individuals who did not attend college. Thus it is possible that the effects on felt identities that
we found might also be found for persons not attending college, although it seems unlikely that
they all would be (or to the same degree). This surmise is in keeping with the results of those
studies that do use a control group of noncollege individuals to establish the net effect of attend-
ing college (see the reviews by Feldman and Newcomb, 1969, and Pascarella and Terenzini,
1991). Even so, we want to be cautious in our conclusions by pointing out that our study does
not establish causality between the college experience and the formation (or modification) of felt
identities in some watertight fashion.
Antaki, C., Condor, S., and Levine, M. (1996). Social identities in talk: Speakers’ own
orientations. British Journal of Social Psychology 35(4):473–492.
Bourdieu, P., and Passeron, J. C. (1990). Reproduction in Education, Society and Cul-
ture, Sage Publications, London.
Braxton, J. M. (ed.) (2000). Reworking the Student Departure Puzzle, Vanderbilt Univer-
sity Press, Nashville, TN.
Dannefer, D. (1984a). Adult development and social theory: A paradigmatic reappraisal.
American Sociological Review 49(1):100–116.
Dannefer, D. (1984b). The role of the social in life-span developmental psychology, past
and future. American Sociological Review 49(6):847–850.
Denzin, N. (1970). The Research Act in Sociology, Butterworth, London.
Dews, C. L. B., and Law, C. L. (ed.) (1995). This Fine Place so Far from Home: Voices
of Academics from the Working Class, Temple University Press, Philadelphia.
Dey, I. (1993). Qualitative Data Analysis: A User-Friendly Guide for Social Scientists,
Routledge, London.
DiMaggio, P. (1982). Cultural capital and school success: The impact of status culture
participation on high school students. American Sociological Review 47(2):189–201.
Ethier, K. A., and Deaux, K. (1994). Negotiating social identity when contexts change:
Maintaining identification and responding to threat. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology 67(2):243–251.
Feagin, J., Vera, H., and Imani, N. O. (1996). The Agony of Education: Black Students
at White Colleges and Universities, Routledge, New York.
Feldman, K. A. (1972). Some theoretical approaches to the study of change and stability
of college students. Review of Educational Research 42(1):1–26.
Feldman, K. A., and Newcomb, T. M. (1969). The Impact of College on Students, Jossey-
Bass, San Francisco.
Goffman, E. (1959). Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Doubleday Anchor, Garden
City, NY.
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, Prentice-
Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Goffman, E. (1967). Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior, Pantheon,
New York.
Granfield, R. (1991). Making it by faking it: Working-class students in an elite academic
environment. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 20(3):331–351.
Hewitt, J. P. (1976). Self and Society: A Symbolic Interactionist Social Psychology, Allyn
and Bacon, Boston.
Hogg, M. A., and Abrams, D. (1988). Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of
Intergroup Relations and Group Processes, Routledge, London.
Hogg, M. A., Terry, D. J., and White, K. M. (1995). A tale of two theories: A critical
comparison of identity theory with social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly
Holland, D. C., and Eisenhart, M. A. (1990). Educated in Romance: Women, Achieve-
ment and College Culture, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Howard, J. A. (2000). Social psychology of identities. Annual Review of Sociology 26:
Jencks, C. (1968). Social stratification and higher education. Harvard Educational Re-
view 38(2):277–316.
Jenkins, R. (1996). Social Identity, Routledge, London.
Kaufman, P. (1999). The Production and Reproduction of Middle-Class Identities. Un-
published doctoral dissertation. State University of New York, Stony Brook.
Kaufman, P. (2003). Learning to not labor: How working-class individuals construct
middle-class identities. The Sociological Quarterly 44(3):481–504.
Kinney, D. A. (1993). From nerds to normals: The recovery of identity among adoles-
cents from middle school to high school. Sociology of Education 66(1):21–40.
Knox, W. E., Lindsay, P., and Kolb, M. N. (1993). Does College Make a Difference?
Long-Term Changes in Activities and Attitudes, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT.
Lamont, M., and Lareau, A. (1988). Cultural capital: Allusions, gaps and glissandos in
recent theoretical developments. Sociological Theory 6(2):153–168.
Lofland, J. (1969). Deviance and Identity, Prentice-Hall, Engklewood Cliffs, NJ.
Louis, K. S., and Turner, C. S. (1991). A program of institutional research on graduate
education. In: Fetterman, David (ed.), New Directions for Institutional Research: Us-
ing Qualitative Methods in Institutional Research (No. 72), Jossey-Bass, San Fran-
cisco, pp. 49–64.
Markus, H., and Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist 41(9):954
Maxwell, J. (1996). Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach, Sage, Thou-
sand Oaks, CA.
McCall, G. J., and Simmons, J. L. (1978). Identities and Interactions, Free Press, New
McMillan, J. H. (1987). Enhancing college students’ critical thinking: A review of stud-
ies. Research in Higher Education 26(1):3–29.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, Self, and Society, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Meyer, J. W. (1970). The charter: Conditions of diffuse socialization in schools. In:
Scott, W. Richard (ed.), Social Processes and Social Structure: An Introduction to
Sociology, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, pp. 564–578.
Meyer, J. W. (1972). The effects of the institutionalization of colleges in society. In:
Feldman, Kenneth A. (ed.), College and Student: Selected Readings in the Social Psy-
chology of Higher Education, Pergamon Press, Elmsford, NY, pp. 109–126.
Meyer, J. W. (1977). The effects of education as an institution. American Journal of
Sociology 83(1):55–77.
Padilla, F. M. (1997). The Struggle of Latino/a University Students: In Search of a Liber-
ating Education, Routledge, New York.
Pascarella, E. T., and Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How College Affects Students: Findings
and Insights from Twenty Years of Research, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Riesman, D., and Jencks, C. (1962). The visibility of the American college. In: Sanford,
Nevitt (ed.), A Psychological and Social Interpretation of the Higher Learning, John
Wiley & Sons, New York, pp. 74–192.
Rosenberg, M. (1986). Conceiving the Self, Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company, Ma-
labar, FL.
Seidman, I. E. (1991). Interviewing as Qualitative Research, Teachers College Press,
New York.
Silver, I. (1996). Role transitions, objects, and identity. Symbolic Interaction 19(1):
Silverman, D. (1993). Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analyzing Talk, Text
and Interaction, Sage, London.
Smith, M. B. (1968). The self and cognitive consistency. In: Abelson, R. P., Aronson,
E., McGuire, W. J., Newcomb, T. M., Rosenberg, M. J., and Tannenbaum, P. H.
(eds.), Theories of Cognitive Consistency: A Sourcebook, Rand McNally, Chicago, pp.
Snow, D. A., and Anderson, L. (1987). Identity work among the homeless: The verbal
construction and avowal of personal identities. American Journal of Sociology 92(6):
Stets, J. E., and Burke, P. J. (2000). Identity theory and social identity theory. Social
Psychology Quarterly 63(3):224–237.
Stewart, A. J., and Ostrove, J. M. (1993). Social class, social change, and gender: Work-
ing class women at Radcliffe and after. Psychology of Women Quarterly 17(4):475–
Stone, G. P. (1970). Appearance and the self. In: Stone, G. P., and Faberman, H. A.
(eds.), Social Psychology Through Symbolic Interaction, Ginn-Blaisdell, Waltham,
MA, pp. 394–414.
Stryker, S., and Burke, P. J. (2000). The past, present and future of an identity theory.
Social Psychology Quarterly 63(4):284–297.
Stryker, S., and Serpe, R. T. (1982). Commitment, identity salience, and role behavior:
Theory and research example. In: Ickes, W., and Knowles, E. S. (eds.), Personality,
Roles and Social Behavior, Springer-Verlag, New York, pp. 199–218.
Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition
(2nd Ed.), The University of Chicago Press, Chiacgo.
Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., and Wetherell, M. S. (1987).
Rediscovering the Social Group: A Self Categorization Theory, Blackwell, Oxford.
Turner, R. H. (1968). The self-conception in social interaction. In: Gordon, C., and Ger-
gen, K. J. (eds.), The Self in Social Interaction, John Wiley & Sons, New York, pp.
Weidman, J. C. (1989). Undergraduate socialization: A conceptual approach. In: Smart,
J. C. (ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research (Vol. 5), Agathon
Press, New York, pp. 289–322.
Weigert, A. J., Teitge, J. S., and Teitge, D. W. (1986). Society and Identity: Toward a
Sociological Psychology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Received September 19, 2002.
... (Fromm, 1994(Fromm, [1941, p.105) 2.1.2 Structure-determinant modes/theories Newcomb (1994 [initially published in 1967]), Kaufman andFeldman (2004) andP& T (2005) argue that large majority of investigations into college student identity formation are from psychological and cognitive-structural perspectives approaches, but only a few from a sociological perspective. The psychological and cognitive-structural approaches focus on investigating students' internal worlds, but they make influences on students' development from university environment and other external settings, such as students' precollege backgrounds and the university's admission conditions, secondary or even ignore them (Feldman & Newcomb (1994[1967); Kaufman & Feldman, 2004). ...
... (Fromm, 1994(Fromm, [1941, p.105) 2.1.2 Structure-determinant modes/theories Newcomb (1994 [initially published in 1967]), Kaufman andFeldman (2004) andP& T (2005) argue that large majority of investigations into college student identity formation are from psychological and cognitive-structural perspectives approaches, but only a few from a sociological perspective. The psychological and cognitive-structural approaches focus on investigating students' internal worlds, but they make influences on students' development from university environment and other external settings, such as students' precollege backgrounds and the university's admission conditions, secondary or even ignore them (Feldman & Newcomb (1994[1967); Kaufman & Feldman, 2004). ...
... Structure-determinant modes/theories Newcomb (1994 [initially published in 1967]), Kaufman andFeldman (2004) andP& T (2005) argue that large majority of investigations into college student identity formation are from psychological and cognitive-structural perspectives approaches, but only a few from a sociological perspective. The psychological and cognitive-structural approaches focus on investigating students' internal worlds, but they make influences on students' development from university environment and other external settings, such as students' precollege backgrounds and the university's admission conditions, secondary or even ignore them (Feldman & Newcomb (1994[1967); Kaufman & Feldman, 2004). Specifically, different 'precollege backgrounds', such as students' family background and previous learning habits will lead to development variations; while the conditions for admission to universities -for example, the cut-off Gaokao score in China -serve as a gatekeeper to guarantee only those students who match the designated condition can be enrolled. ...
This thesis discusses identity and its formation of 45 Chinese undergraduate students in an international branch campus in China. The qualitative data collected in loosely-structured interviews reveal the complexity of their identity and formation process in their life trajectories in this university (TU). Giddens’s idea of anticipation of identity and Archer’s typology of reflexivity are employed as the two major theoretical and analytical devices in this research. These students’ interview accounts demonstrate that they explored and constructed their self/identity in the process of adaptation to TU and a social reproduction of the TU culture. Meanwhile, the TU context – the structure they are involved in – provides certain space for their agential powers (agency) to guide their decision-making and action-taking. This research lets students speak for themselves about ‘who they think they are’ with minimum researcher intervention, rather than fitting them into any pre-designated identity mode/theory such as an Eriksonian stage mode. Accordingly, this research is more open to ‘possibilities’ emerging in my students’ personal development. Additionally, this research supports and expands Archer’s hypothesis of reflexivity by putting it into practice in my empirical investigation and creating particular ‘agency-structure interaction cycles in individual identity formation’ based on it. This research also provides a potential solution to hybridizing habitus and reflexivity in understanding the relationship between agency and structure in this era of late modernity.
... Kérdéses az is, hogy az a kulturális klíma, ami egyrészt tudatos építkezés, másrészt belső kiformálódás eredménye, ténylegesen alakítja-e a hallgatókat. Az identitás, a nyelvhasználat vagy az öltözködés területén a kvalitatív vizsgálatok feltártak hatásokat (Xie és Reay, 2020;Nimer, 2021), azonban a művelődési szokások változását felmérő nagymintás vizsgálatokat nem ismerünk -bár kisebb mintán Kaufman és Feldman (2004) kimutatta a magaskulturális elemek életmódba való beépülését. 58 Az egyetemek minden bizonnyal a kulturális fogyasztás számos regiszterét foglalják magukba, s ha napjainkban nem is domináns, de mindenképpen jelenlévő területként kell tekintenünk a magaskultúrához köthető elemekre -ezek megléte pedig azért is fontos, mert a hallgatói bázis átalakulásával sok diák számára korábban hasonló kulturális klíma nem volt elérhető. ...
... Korábban láttuk, hogy az egyetemek egyik hatásmechanizmusaként a nyitottság és a kozmopolitanizmus erősödését nevezték meg (Kaufman és Feldman, 2004). A felsőoktatás diverzebbé válása, a hallgatói társadalom hátterének kevert jellege a nemzetköziesedéssel vagy a multikulturális campusokkal 86 kiegészülve számos olyan mintát foglal magába, ami eltér a kibocsátó környezetben tapasztaltaktól. ...
... Az öltözködéssel (33,34,40), kommunikációs készségekkel és nyelvhasználattal (38,40,41), zenei ízléssel (35, 40) és gasztronómiával (40) kapcsolatos elemek arra utalnak, hogy a felsőoktatás akár a hallgatói közegen, akár az intézményi klímán, akár pedig egyes oktatók révén képes átadni a habitushoz kapcsolódó elemeket -korábban láthattuk, hogy ezek az értelmiségi szerepkészlet fontos részét képezik. A nyitottság és a tolerancia mint tapasztalt hatás is több alkalommal megjelent (32, 35, 38) -ez egybevág az intézményi hatások elméleti keretekben ismertetett egyik fő szálával (Kaufman és Feldman, 2004). Szintén sokféle forrásból, de megvalósulhat egyfajta személyiségfejlődés (38, 40), és a munkamorállal, illetve a tanuláshoz és a tudáshoz való viszony megváltozásával is számolhatunk (33, 40). ...
... The institutional aims include the elements of preparation for the various professions, so this is the final stage of students' socialization in some models. Three fields of transformation are identified by Kaufman and Feldman (2004): intelligence (e.g., critical and analytical thinking, language use), vocational identity, and cosmopolitanism (wider cultural horizons, a sense of taste or habitus, etc.). Parsons divided the socialization process into technical and moral elements (Gordon, 2005). ...
... The density of peer interaction can raise the level of integration as well as the feeling of belonging, the acceptance of institutional values, and participation in extracurricular activities (Brower, 1992). Kaufman and Feldman (2004) also highlight the role of interactions. ...
Full-text available
The goals of this paper are to reveal the process of institutional effects in higher education and to identify those components that can be classified as being beyond vocational skills. The topicality of this analysis is embedded in the transformation of universities, which can create a new framework for students' socialization process. Two different methods were used during our research: a questionnaire with students (N = 1502) on a nationwide sample in Hungary and 31 interviews with lecturers. According to our empirical findings, the effects of higher education are very complex, and vocational elements are not the only content that is transmitted. Students can perceive the components of moral effects at
... Presented findings highlight a range of self-narratives found Qualitative Sociology among SGI youths who are similarly positioned for the future as soon-to-be college graduates. Where prior research suggests that college-going youth generally display a sense of agency in their self-narratives (Kaufman and Feldman 2004;Silva and Corse 2018), our findings uncover important heterogeneity among this group. Drawing from in-depth interviews, we find notable divergence in the degree to which youth from immigrant families describe themselves as being in control of their own environment and future. ...
... Most of these young people narrated a vigilant self, cautious and proactive in the face of uncertainty. Kaufman and Feldman (2004) claim that college attendance endows students with "symbolic entitlement" that they are deserving of white-collar jobs. However, the SGI youths in our study who grew up in working-class families did not possess this sense of entitlement. ...
Full-text available
The transition from late adolescence to early adulthood represents a key moment in trajectories of social reproduction and mobility. A central mechanism influencing these trajectories is the cultivation of specific versions of selfhood. Research shows that socialization within various class locations shapes individuals’ sense of self in ways that impact how they imagine the future and the actions they take in pursuit of goals. Thus far, however, existing literature has neglected to consider the experiences of youth from immigrant families, a population that encounters unique challenges in the transition to adulthood. This paper relies on 40 in-depth interviews to explore the self-narratives of second-generation immigrant (SGI) youth. We seek to understand how these narratives relate to their future orientations and approaches to planning. Additionally, given the findings of prior research, we consider variation in SGI youths’ self-narratives by social class background. Respondents from middle-class families displayed a durable sense of agency, crafting either a focused self with a clear trajectory toward a white-collar occupation or an exploratory self, open to unbounded personal discovery. By contrast, most respondents from working-class backgrounds exhibited a more tentative sense of agency and narrated a vigilant self that was proactive but cautious in the face of uncertainty. Divergence in participants’ self-narratives related to different strategies for planning for the future. Our findings extend the literature on the construction of agentic selfhood for college-going youth in the transition to adulthood.
... Oftentimes, they find themselves transitioning from their parental households, experience an increase in their autonomy, and face new responsibilities. Their worldviews, values, and even identities are challenged by new academic and social circles (Kaufman & Feldman, 2004;Seo et al., 2016). Graduate students might have already gone through the process of leaving their parental households and experience an increase in their autonomy through their undergraduate years in college, but many still face the challenge of adapting to a new environment, coping with financial and academic stress, handling new academic responsibilities and workloads, and familiarizing themselves with a new culture (El-Ghoroury et al., 2012;Jairam & Kahl, 2012;Schwartz-Mette, 2009). ...
Full-text available
Based on 15 in-depth interviews, the present study aims to understand the common challenges international graduate students face and the coping strategies they employed, types of SNS used, and social support sought from their relationship during graduate school. Common challenges faced are loneliness, stress, feeling overwhelmed with graduate school, and difficulties adjusting to a new culture. Coping strategies include sharing experiences with relations whom they trust and understand their situation, and joining online communities via SNS. The participants use both public and private SNS to seek social support depending on the various functionalities offered. SNS use depends on the affordances such as convenience, affordability, trust issues, and privacy. Most sought-after type of social support are emotional and informational via SNS.
... These students mostly spent time with peers or on their own; their relationships with faculty liaisons were centered on tutoring-related activities and usually did not extend to academic departments on campus. This study confirms how students' goal formation and maintenance is a relational activity (Cox, 2009;Kaufman & Feldman, 2004). ...
Background/Context Sociologists of education have studied how community colleges’ institutional authorities and organizational barriers stratify students’ postsecondary aspirations. Notions of how students might diverge in their pursuits are less understood. This study builds on imagined futures and postsecondary aspiration literature to demonstrate how students’ agency and institutional barriers interconnect, creating two different transfer approaches based on patterns in students’ sense of place and time. Research Questions (1) How do community college students who aspire to transfer perceive campus as a place? (2) How do students see their time at community college as part of their plans? Setting Tutoring center, campus events, classrooms, and surrounding areas at a community college in Southern California. Research Design Drawing on combined data from 11 months of participant observation (approximately 185 hours), eight semistructured interviews with key participants, and a novel timeline approach, this study analyzes how students’ mental boundary work and interactions with others reveal distinct interpretations of being a transfer-bound student. Findings/Results In noting patterns in students’ sense of place and time, I found two “lived pathways”: students act as “stone steppers” or “place makers.” Stone steppers had tighter boundaries around what on-campus activities they defined as academic or work and a detailed plan for their future. Place makers were less segmented in their view of academic or work activities and more open-ended in their plan for the future. Conclusions/Recommendations This study offers a contextual and process-focused examination of the pursuit of postsecondary aspirations based on students’ lived experiences and narratives. In focusing on the interplay between students’ agency and community college context, this study provides several key takeaways for community college personnel and other stakeholders to use in serving students and best connecting their goals to their pathways and movement through college.
... In the science mainly psychologists have turned to identity research, focusing on the professional identity, its structure and levels of development as a separate sector (Day, et. al., 2007;Kasworm, 2005;Jakovleva, 2009;Kaufman, 2004;King & Stretch, 2013). The aspects of professional identity of a school career counsellor and the conditions for their formation have not been studies yet. ...
... We have to regard the system of higher education as the place of students' socialisation process and in this framework several elements of knowledge (vocational and general at the same time), norms, values or components of behaviour can be transmitted (Weidman, 2006;Kaufman & Feldman, 2004;Graham, 2005). The wider and formal system of this process is the organisation of universities with their own manifest aims and rules. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
There is a debate in the field of social sciences about the role of intellectuals. More possible directions can be distinguished: professional, intelligentsia and public intellectual. These types have got their own historical, geographical and political backgrounds but if we regard universities as places in which intellectuals are trained we have to highlight the importance of higher education at the same time. Despite the wide theoretical background empirical findings have narrowly been known. In this paper quantitative method was used and we try to analyze what university students think about the role components of intellectuals. Our database came from 2017 from a nationwide Hungarian student analysis (N=1502). We created our own made question-block with 18 items and undergraduates had to scale these items which belong to the role components of intellectuals. We can state that students have got a mixed pattern in the analyzed field. The components of professional role are strong-and this fits into the national educational policies-but other elements are significant too. The features of classical intellectual habitus are strong as well (general knowledge, white collar work etc.), but the components of public intellectuals and macro-level aims have less importance.
... Yani işyerinin müdürü olmak çok daha kolay gelecek. Ama yukardan gelen ya da bizim geçmiş ekonominin bıraktığı kötü miras şu memur olun, yani hepiniz memur olun!Görüşmenin devamında ayrıcalıklı okulların mezunu olmadan da kişinin kendi çabasıyla girişimcilikte başarılı olabileceğini söyleyen Albetro'nun istisnai başarısının aksine özellikle mezun olunan üniversitenin kişilerin gelecekteki "keçeleşmiş kimliklerinin" inşasında oldukça büyük rol oynadığı da belirtilmektedir(Kaufman & Feldman, 2004). Girişimci olmadan beş yıldan uzun bir süre boyunca çalıştığı kurumsal şirkette, bir idarecinin dönemindeki yönetim pozisyonlarına düşünülen adayların seçiminiTürkiye'yi kurtaracak olanlardı. ...
Full-text available
Türkiye'de internet girişimciliği ve melek yatırımcılığı konu edinen bu çalışma, internet girişimciliği herkes için yukarı yönlü sosyal mobilite imkânı yaratır mı sorusuna yanıt aramıştır. Bu doğrultuda 18 internet girişimcisi ve internet girişimlerine yatırım yapmış 8 melek yatırımcı ile derinlemesine mülakatlar yapılmış; bu görüşmeler kazananın hikayesinin diyalektik olarak kaybedenin hikayesini de içereceği varsayımı ile gerçekleştirilmiş ve katılımcıların başarısızlık hikayelerinde de odaklanılmıştır. Bu mülakatlar, neoliberalizm, finansallaşma ve güvencesizlik tartışmaları ile birlikte çalışma sonunda önerdiğimiz "kaygan mobilite" kavramının etrafında analiz edilmiştir. Görüşülen kişilerin kendilerinin ve ortaklarının sınıfsal arka planlarına ilişkin sorgulamalar internet girişimlerinin diğer girişimcilik türlerine göre daha az maliyetli ve daha hızlı bir şekilde değerlenen işler yarattığı, maddi sermayeye neredeyse hiç ihtiyaç duyulmadan kurulabilir olmasına ilişkin yaygın şehir efsanelerinin yeni bir meritokrasi ve sosyal hareketlilik miti ürettiğini açığa çıkarmıştır. Sonuç olarak, girişimcilik ve sosyal hareketlik ile sınıfsal köken ilişkisine odaklanan bu çalışmanın temel bulgusu internet girişimciliği ve melek yatırımcılık ile gerçekleştirilecek sosyal hareketliliğin yukarı ve aşağı yönlü seyrinin hızından dolayı "kaygan mobilite" biçiminde deneyimlenmesidir. Diğer bir önemli bulgusu ise girişimcilerin kurdukları girişimci ekiplerinde girişimcilerin sınıfsal kökenlerinin de tıpkı teknik bilgi, tecrübe ve emek gibi paylaşılan bir değer haline gelmesidir. Anahtar Kelimeler: Girişimcilik, Sosyal Hareketlilik, Finansallaşma, Neoliberal Özne The current dissertation which examines the internet entrepreneurship and angel investment in Turkey tried the answer the question that does internet entrepreneurship create upward social mobility opportunities for everyone in society. In this respect, indepth interviews were made with 18 internet entrepreneurs and 8 angel investors who invested in internet enterprises, and these interviews were carried out with the assumption that the winner's story would also include the story of the loser dialectically and thus focused on the failure stories of the interviewees. These interviews were analyzed around the concept of "slippery mobility", which we proposed at the end of the study, together with the discussions of neoliberalism, financialization and insecurity. The inquiries regarding the class backgrounds of the interviewees themselves and their partners revealed that urban legends which includes that the internet initiatives created less valuable and faster valued jobs than other types of entrepreneurship, produced a new meritocracy and social mobility myth. As a result, the main finding of this dissertation, which focuses on the relationship between entrepreneurship and social mobility and class roots, is the experience of "slippery mobility" due to the speed of the upward and downward trend of internet entrepreneurship and angel investment. Another important finding is that the entrepreneurial teams formed by entrepreneurs become a shared value of entrepreneurs' class origins, just like technical knowledge, experience and labor. Keywords: Entrepreneurship, Social Mobility, Financialization, Neoliberal Subject
... These sys tem atic dif fer ences in col lege social con texts can exac er bate socio eco nomic inequal ity in stu dent out comes because col le ges are fun da men tally social spaces where stu dents inter act, exchange infor ma tion and per spec tives, and adopt behav iors that can affect their edu ca tional out comes. Far from arriv ing at col lege as "fin ished prod ucts," stu dents' iden ti ties, choices, and aspi ra tions evolve, partly as a result of their social envi ron ment on cam pus (Armstrong and Hamilton 2013;Binder et al. 2016;Bourdieu 1986;Hamilton et al. 2018;Kaufman and Feldman 2004;Stevens 2009;Stevens et al. 2008;Winston and Zimmerman 2004). The col lege social envi ron ment can influ ence stu dents' pro fes sional aspi ra tions (Binder et al. 2016;Bourdieu 1984Bourdieu , 1986Walpole 2003), major choices (Armstrong and Hamilton Socioeconomic Segregation, Campus Context, and College Degree 2013), grades (Fletcher and Tienda 2009), and reten tion (Tinto 1987(Tinto , 1997)-all of which are related to their like li hood of obtaining a degree. ...
Full-text available
It is well established that students from different socioeconomic backgrounds attend different colleges, net of their academic preparation. An unintended consequence of these disparities is that in the aggregate, they enhance socioeconomic segregation across institutions of higher education, cultivating separate and distinct social environments that can influence students' outcomes. Using information on the academic careers of a nationally representative sample of U.S. high school students who entered college in the mid-2000s, matched with external information on the social context of each college, this study evaluates the extent of socioeconomic segregation by social context in higher education and its implications for socioeconomic inequality in bachelor's degree attainment. Results confirm that social context is highly consequential for inequality in student outcomes. First, disparities in social context are extensive, even after differences in demographics, skills, attitudes, and college characteristics are accounted for. Second, the social context of campus, as shaped by segregation, is a robust predictor of students' likelihood of obtaining a bachelor's degree. Finally, the degree attainment rates of all students are positively associated with higher concentrations of economic advantages on campus. Combined, these results imply that socioeconomic segregation across colleges exacerbates disparities in degree attainment by placing disadvantaged students in social environments that are least conducive to their academic success.
Full-text available
The generic, indeed the defining, task of social psychology is to investigate the interrelationships among society, the social person, and social behavior. Every theoretical perspective or framework in social psychology approaches this immense task by narrowing it, by selecting particular dimensions of society, persons, and behavior as especially worthy of attention. While the ultimate goal for social psychology may be a single, unified theoretical framework sufficiently comprehensive to incorporate “all” the “important” aspects, etc., of the defining conceptual variables of social psychology,1 that goal is not in sight. In the meantime, and before the millenium, all social psychological perspectives or frameworks are partial, selective in their approaches to the world they hope to explicate. That assertion is true of symbolic interactionism, the theoretical framework out of which the theory examined in this chapter develops, although perhaps less so than for most contemporary frameworks in social psychology.
Education is usually seen as affecting society by socializing individuals. Recently this view has been attacked with the argument that education is a system of allocation, conferring success on some and failure on others. The polemic has obscured some of the interesing implications of allocation theory for socialization theory and for research on the effects of education. But allocation theory, too, focuses on educational effects on individuals being processed. It turns out to be a special case of a more general macrosociological theory of the effects of education as a system of legitimation. Education restructures whole populations, creating and expanding elites and redefining the rights and obligations of members. The institutional effects of education as a legitimation system are explored. Comparative and experimental studies are suggested.
The effect of educational attainment on adult occupational status is often exaggerated,but higher education is nonetheless an important route to a good job. The middle class have always made disproportionate use of this tool for self-advancement,and the gap is not narrowing. The role of tuition charges and academic tests in maintaining the middle-class advantage is not as great as many suppose; class differences in motivation probably play the decisive role. Even if access to higher education became more equal, however, this would not necessarily make American life more satisfactory. The central problem seems to be inequality, not immobility,and while the two are closely related, measures intended to achieve one may not promote the other.