Personal Identity

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify personal values and align them with educational goals
  • Use personality tests and/or skills inventories to evaluate career paths that match your values and interests
  • Describe the responsibilities of college student life and how they differ from high school or early career life

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Assessing Your Values

The journey of achieving success in college begins with a single step: identifying your personal values. Your personal values are your core beliefs and guiding principles. They shape the roles you play in daily life. They color your interests and passions, and frame your thoughts and words. In essence, your values are a compass that help you make decisions and choices.

What are your values, then? Which are most important to you, and which are least important? How do your values fit into your educational goals? How do your educational goals relate to your future career?

To help you answer these questions, you can use a “self-assessment” survey. These surveys can help you evaluate your personal identity—your thoughts, actions, attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors—in relationship to the task at hand, like going to college and preparing for a career.

Many different self-assessment surveys are available from college career centers and online sites. Some are designed as personality tests, like the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, or as inventories, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI®), the most widely used personality inventory in history. You may also come across instruments designed as scales, or measures, games, surveys, and more. These descriptors are often interchangeably used, although most often they refer to questionnaires. The distinctions are not as important as whether or not the instrument meets your self-assessment needs.

Stages of Life

Keep in mind that your personal values and interests can and do change as you get older. This is evidenced in research conducted by a number of contemporary social scientists, like Erik Erikson and Daniel Levinson. Their studies show how our values affect our choices and how our choices can characterize the stage of life we’re in.

For example, college students, ages 18–26, tend to make choices that are tentative (more short-range) and support a desire for autonomy. Later, during ages 27–31, young adults may rethink decisions and lean toward more permanent choices. In ages 32–42, adults tend to have a greater sense of commitment and stability, as shown by their choices. In essence, our personal identity and values change over time, but they continue to affect our choices and can illuminate the stage of life we’re in [1].

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Keeping in mind that there are many phases of life, you can expect to see changes in your values and choices as you get older. You may experience a significant change in perspective while you are in college! To better understand your relationship with your values, you can continually reassess what is important to you. Make a commitment to examining your thinking, actions, and choices, and keep taking self-assessment tests. This will put you in a stronger position to manage changes in your educational goals, your career, living situation, hobbies, friends, and other aspects of your life. Changes are part of normal life transitions.

Student Responsibilities

Now that you have transitioned into college, you will have new responsibilities. Research has shown that students who get involved in career-planning activities stay in college longer, graduate on time, improve their academic performance, tend to be more goal focused and motivated, and have a more satisfying and fulfilling college experience. This is why an important first step in college is examining your personal identity and values. By examining your values first, you begin the process of defining your educational goals and ultimately planning your career.

Secondary to the critical nature of assessing your values is the importance of committing to your responsibilities as a student. What are your new student responsibilities? Are they financial? Course specific? Social? Health related? Ethical? What exactly is expected of you?

Expectations for student behavior vary from campus to campus. A Web search for “college student responsibilities” reveals the breadth of expectations deemed important at any given institution.

Broadly, though, students are expected to at least act consistently with the values of the institution and to obey local, state, and federal laws. It may also be expected that you actively participate in your career decision-making process, respond to advising, and plan to graduate.

Institutions invariably provide additional details about student responsibilities. Details may be formal or informal. They may fall under academic expectations or a code of conduct. They may also include resources and recommendations.

Consult your college handbook or Web site for details about your rights and responsibilities as a student. Overall, you demonstrate that you are a responsible student when you do the following:

  • Uphold the values of honesty and academic integrity.
  • Arrive on time and prepared for all classes, meetings, academic activities, and special events.
  • Give attention to quality and excellence in completing assignments.
  • Allot sufficient time to fulfill responsibilities outside of class.
  • Observe etiquette in all communications, giving respect to instructors, fellow students, staff and the larger college community.
  • Take full advantage of college resources available to you.
  • Respect diversity in people, ideas, and opinions.
  • Achieve educational goals in an organized, committed, and proactive manner.
  • Take full responsibility for personal behavior.
  • Comply with all college policies.

By allowing these overarching principles to guide you, you embrace responsibility and make choices that lead to college success.

College vs. High School

If you know others who attend or have attended college, then you have a head start on knowing what to expect during this odyssey. Still, the transition from high school to college is striking. College life differs in many ways.

For more information about high school vs. college, refer to this detailed set of comparisons from Southern Methodist University: “How Is College Different from High School.” The site provides an extensive list of contrasts, such as the following:

  • Following the rules in high school vs. choosing responsibly in college
  • Going to high school classes vs. succeeding in college classes
  • Understanding high school teachers vs. college professors
  • Preparing for tests in high school vs. tests in college
  • Interpreting grades in high school vs. grades in college

The site also provides recommendations for successfully transitioning from high school to college.

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