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Reference Groups: College Students Essay

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Updated: Dec 1st, 2021


Reference groups play a pertinent role in the make-up of college students’ behavior and attitude. The term reference group was coined by Hyman during the study of social standing when he required respondents with “which individuals or groups” they identified their selves. (Bearden and Etzel 183).

We mould our personalities through socialization. Family, school, society, peer groups etc are important agents in this process. We often tend to absorb certain things in our personalities which are considered to be more valuable in society. This paper presents some topics like various reference groups of college students, most important reference groups and the difference between high school students and college students having reference groups in moulding of one’s personality. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects is that, “however, individuals who are considered to be “deviant” by one category of people may be seen as conformists by another group.” (Kendall 175).

Various reference groups of college students

Social scientists have acknowledged group membership as a precursor of conduct. The notion that people act in conformity within the “framework of reference” created by the groups in which they claim membership is a well accepted idea (Bearden and Etzel 183).

Reference group is a group that influences a student’s behavior and attitude. Family, education, peer group, media and religion are the main agents in the process of socialization of an individual. This process helps us become a human in the society, acquiring mental and physical skills which are essential to live in the society. It molds us how to think, act and talk in the society. Any regular “frame of reference” whether it matches social precepts or not, makes up the perceptive portion of an approach.” (Newcomb 225).

Children and adults need people who take care of them and they want groups with which they can interact. Looking-glass self theory is a sociological concept where one individual evaluates the other person’s view about evaluating individuals. If it is positive, it will enhance the personality and if it is negative it will diminish the self. Therefore, the society and socialization has a vital role in the molding of personality. There are reference groups for college students towards which they are more attracted and their personality is influenced by these reference groups. “Compared to older people, college students have less developed attitudes, lower molded self beliefs, but instead have robust recognition skills and faculties, and more ‘unstable peer-group relationships.” (Sears 515-530).

There are various reference groups among college students. Each one is attracted towards the reference group where one thinks that his or her own ideas and principles can be cherished. The different groups are associated with any of these groups such as sports, writers and intellectuals, films stars and models, singers and dancers and politicians. Film actors or singers serve as role models for teenagers, while for others, the fashionable school a group acts as “a reference group.” (Oskamp and Schultz 173). All college students have a role model on whose principles the personality is developed and socialized. Sports are crazy for college students such as football, basketball, cricket etc. Those who are interested in sports try to be identified with sports club members and sports stars. They continuously play games and sports. So also, students who are interested in dance, writing, politics, drama and singing are attracted by the same group and club. The college students have these kinds of reference groups. It certainly influences on their perception, identity, behavior and attitude.

After the school life student would be having a very different experience. Reference group they would be having in college would depend upon the character of the student.

Most important reference groups

The way we assess ourselves is determined by associations with social groups called “Reference groups”. (Egelman, et al 47). Sports and movies are the dream of most of the students. The media plays an important role in building up of such thoughts among college students. More students are mad after films and sports. They like to be identified in such labels. Such a student, who is crazy after these, joins sports clubs and film clubs in the college. These thoughts influence their personality, behavior and attitude. More often, it is found that boys in college are more attracted to sports when girls in colleges are crazy after film and modeling. It is visible from their appearance such as way of talking, dressing and walking.

Culture changes in the long run. The culture is expressed in a society through beliefs, values, customs, etc. We experience the change of culture with the advance of technologies. Today, there is a trend in the society to adore the film stars and sports stars. They are considered as precious in the society and people go after them. This attitude of the society makes the students think to become film stars and sport stars. Very few students are attracted to writings and some students cherish adventurous and risky objectives in life. It is seen that sports and film are the two important ways to become celebrity and to make money. That is why more college students are attracted to such reference groups.

College student will be having a different an entirely different reference group from high school. The shift from an atmosphere which consists of strict rules and regulations to more creative and free one would make them select different kinds of people. However these aspects would also depend upon whether the student population consists of cosmopolitans or locals. This is because “Certain differences were found between cosmopolitans and locals in terms of influence, participation, acceptance of organizational rules and informal relations.” (Gouldner).

College and high school students with regard to reference group

There are differences between college students and high schools students with regard to reference group. There are only two reference groups among high school students. They are, reference groups who are interested in (1) film and models and (2) sports. But in college level, students start to think about revolutions and various philosophies. Students begin to criticize the existing social system and they think to build a new system. They become revolutionary, thinking that they can change the world. Therefore, college students are attracted to some of the philosophies and writings. So also, some are more interested in politics. These visions are molded at this time. Therefore even though it can be varied according to different culture and educational systems, there are more reference groups among college students comparing to high school children. These reference groups influence the personality, especially behavior and attitude of the students. Moreover, it is also evident that college seniors have more correct picture of “labor market realities” than their school counterparts. (Pascarella and Terenzini).


The important role models for college students are writers, politicians, film stars, models, sport stars, musicians etc. They are always attracted towards such reference groups. Though most of the students are crazy after film and sports, some people are interested in politics, music, writing etc. But in the case of a high school student, everyone is attracted only to film and sports.

Works Cited

Bearden, William O and Etzel, Michael J. “Reference Group Influence on Product and Brand Purchase Decisions.” Journal of Consumer Research 9 (1982): 183-194. Web.

Egelman, William, et al. The Best Test Preparation for the CLEP College-Level Examination Program in Introductory Sociology. Research & Education Assoc., 1995. Print.

Gouldner, Alvin W. . JSTOR, Johnson Graduate School of Management. 1958.

Kendall, Diana. . 7th ed. Cengage Learning. 2008.

Newcomb, Theodore Mead. Social Psychology. Dryden Press, 1950. Print.

Oskamp, Stuart and Schultz, P. Wesley. Attitudes and Opinions. 3rd ed. Routledge, 2005. Print.

Pascarella, Ernest T and Terenzini, Patrick T. How College Effects Students: A Third Decade of Research. John Wiley & Sons. 2005. Web.

Sears, David O. “College Sophomores in the Laboratory: Influences of a Narrow Data Base on Social Psychology’s View of Human Nature.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51(3) (1986): 515-530. Web.

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