University years are often regarded as a period of transition to adulthood. Researchers agree that university experiences have certain effects on people’s personal development. However, it is still necessary to learn more about how this period affects people’s development. This study explores some effects that university experiences have on students. A qualitative research design is used to address the research problem. Eight students took part in the research. The chosen data collection method was the semi-structured interview, as this method enables the researcher to elicit a lot of information and encourage the participants to share their views freely. Open coding was used as the data analysis method. From this study, it is found that university experiences have had an impact on the interviewees’ personal development in terms of social interactions, maturity, independence, and the acquisition of positive habits. The participants report that they have become more extroverted, flexible, independent, and mature. It is thus clear that a university can be regarded as a positive environment that shapes students’ personal development.
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Psychological and emotional development differs at different stages of human life. The periods of adolescence and young adulthood are influential as they tend to shape how people transition into adulthood. For instance, the ways people interact with others are often shaped by their university experiences (Newman & Newman, 2014). Moreover, university experiences can affect the way one’s identity develops (Scott, Whiddon, Brown, & Weeks, 2015). It is necessary to note that social identity theories prevail in the modern academic world when it comes to analyzing the effects of educational experiences on students’ development (Patton, Renn, Guido, & Quaye, 2016). This theoretical framework entails a focus on various aspects including but not confined to such areas as ethnicity, race, gender, and sexual orientation.
At the same time, it is still unclear whether university experiences can shape people’s features such as their major character traits, leadership styles, worldviews, and so on. McAdams (2015) states that university life can often be regarded as a positive environment that positively affects students’ personal development. The purpose of the present study is to identify whether university experiences influence students’ personal development. To this end, the research question is as follows: can one’s university experiences affect his or her personal development?
It is important to mention my biases and background to ensure that these biases will not affect the process of analyzing and collecting data. I am a university student whose personal features were somewhat shaped during my first year of studies, which means that I expect to find that university experiences have many effects on individuals. Therefore, it is important to remember that there may be people whose identities and characters remained unchanged.
Methodology and Method
This study focuses on people’s perspectives and attitudes, which means that their accounts must be analyzed. I used the qualitative research design as it enables researchers to explore people’s views and attitudes rather than estimate correlations and particular trends (Creswell, 2014). Furthermore, I used a case study research design to address the research question mentioned above. I chose this approach because the present study concentrates on a particular group (i.e. students) and their perspectives.
I employed convenience sampling as the study’s sampling method. This method enables the researcher to choose participants who will eagerly and openly share their experiences (Creswell, 2014). Random sampling cannot ensure this important element as people chosen randomly may agree to participate but still not share their ideas openly and freely. The participants of this study included the researcher’s friends and acquaintances, as well as random students who agreed to participate (and were recruited on the university’s campus). The major criterion to be eligible for the study was being a current student. Other variables (such as gender, age, and ethnicity) were not taken into account.
Data Collection and Processing
I chose the semi-structured interview as the data collection method since it enables the researcher to elicit as much information as possible. In this method, the researcher uses a set of prepared questions to remain focused on the matter at hand (Creswell, 2014). At the same time, the chosen data collection method enables the researcher to ask clarifying questions and dig deeper, making it possible to identify new themes and concerns during interviews.
A review of the existing literature, as well as personal experience, shows that some parts of people’s lives and personalities undergo certain changes during their academic years. The prepared questions addressed several aspects of university experiences and their impact on personality. The questions highlighted such areas as the participants’ courses, how they feel about them, their expectations concerning their university experiences as compared to reality, and habits and personality traits acquired. Furthermore, I encouraged the participants to share their ideas concerning how they changed (if any), the people and events that caused these changes, and important lessons learned. All these areas helped the researcher identify whether university experiences affected the participants’ personal development. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. After the transcription of the interviews, I deleted the records. I read each transcript several times, and the most recurrent themes were identified. I utilized open coding as the data analysis tool.
The participants were informed about the purpose of the study and its major features. I also assured them that their personal information would be confidential and secure. The participants’ names were not disclosed; they were only referred to by participant number. The questions asked were clear and unbiased, and the participants were able to withdraw from the study at any point or refuse to answer any questions. The participants signed written consent forms in which all these aspects were highlighted.
This research involved eight participants, five of whom were second-year students and three of whom were first-year students. The participants had different majors including business and sociology, chemical engineering, business and finance, law, music technology, computer science, languages, and psychology. The following themes were identified: background information, expectations, and reality, personal traits before and after entering university, attitudes towards studies, habits, lessons learned, transitional events, and people who affected the participants in any way. As for any changes in the participants’ personalities, the participants named such areas as independence, confidence, maturity, self-organization, ambition, sociability, and flexibility. For instance, over half of the participants (over 60%) stressed that they have become more extroverted. Participant 8 notes, “At uni, I push myself to act more extroverted” (Participant 8). All participants state that they have become more mature and independent and have “reached another level of maturity” (Participant 6). Being more disciplined or “more organized with work” is another important aspect mentioned.
It is necessary to add that the participants anticipated university to be a challenge with a significant workload. Most of the interviewees report that their academic lives are busy and that studies can be regarded as a challenge. Only one participant states the opposite:
I thought I would be quite busy with my work and study and stuff, but, it is erm… quite free, I mean, erm, my timetable is not as packed as I thought it will be (Participant 3).
Interestingly, participants also mention that during their studies, they have acquired the skills necessary to interact with others more successfully. One of the interviewees states that university experiences transform a student into “someone who can merge in with different people” (Participant 4). The majority of participants (six out of eight) would recommend the university to other people, while two interviewees mention the financial aspect, which makes higher education less worthwhile than it could be. I expected that the participants’ university experiences would be associated with picking up new habits. However, only two participants mention the appearance of new habits. One of these habits was a new accent, and the other habit was a healthier diet.
As for transitional events and people who have changed the participants’ personalities, only a few interviewees mention some specific events or people that changed something in their lives or personalities. However, these interviewees do not provide many details on the matter. For instance, one of the participants explains thus: “These are the two people who have helped me, the first gave me confidence and the other helped me find ambition” (Participant 4). It is necessary to note that all the participants state that they are quite ambitious and claim that this trait of their characters had appeared long before they entered university. Importantly, they stress that this trait is what enabled them to enter university.
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The results of this study show that university experiences have had an impact on the participants’ personal development. One of the major effects is associated with sociability. The participants stress that they have become more open and flexible when interacting with other people. McAdams (2015) claims that extroversion is both a predisposition and an acquired feature. The researcher stresses that a positive environment plays an essential role in the development of extroversion. Even if people are quite introverted by nature, they can become more open and active in positive environments. Indeed, the results of this study reveal the relevance of this assumption. All the participants have found themselves in positive environments in which collaboration between different people is the norm. This positive environment (which is often a characteristic feature of university life) has had positive effects on the interviewees’ personal development.
The perspective of one participant in particular is especially interesting in this respect. Participant 8 makes an active effort to be more extroverted, saying, “I push myself to act more extroverted”. The interviewee reports that university experiences are positive overall and that being more extroverted is regarded as a way to improve and develop oneself. At that, it is still clear that the environment plays a central role in the process of this participant’s development.
Maturity & Independence
Maturity and independence are aspects mentioned by all participants. These concepts are quite interconnected. The participants argue that they have to be more mature in university as they do not have anyone on whom to rely. The majority of interviewees mention the roles that their parents and school teachers played during their school years. University experiences are quite different as students have to make decisions, manage their time, prioritize tasks, and so on. Roberts and Nickel (2017) note that people mature with age, and the period of young adulthood is central to this process. The researchers also add that maturity occurs due to the increased independence of individuals as well as their active participation in social life. When people start fulfilling certain social roles (e.g., of a student, a parent, a spouse, an employee), they become more responsible, agreeable, and flexible.
The participants use similar arguments when describing their maturity and independence. They claim that they have been forced to mature as they have no one else to make decisions for them. The role of a student implies the need to interact with various people, manage schedules, prioritize tasks, manage finances, and so on. The participants claim that they have learned to complete such tasks, which has made them significantly more mature.
As mentioned above, it was expected that participants would acquire some new habits during their university years. However, the vast majority of participants could not think of any habit acquired during this period. All of their current habits (e.g. drinking and going out) appeared before their enrolment in a university. However, one case is quite interesting as the participant mentions the acquisition of a positive habit, which is healthy eating. It is possible to assume that the lack of free time and financial resources, a common feature of student years, can often contribute to the development of unhealthy eating habits. Nevertheless, Participant 7 states that the habit acquired during university years was healthier eating. Researchers state that healthy eating is becoming a widespread convention among university students (Deliens, Clarys, De Bourdeaudhuij, & Deforche, 2014). The environment shapes people’s choices concerning food. The perspective of Participant 7 can be regarded as evidence supporting this assumption. The interviewee contemplates the reasons for the development of this habit and notes that it could have appeared “possibly because of socializing more and being more aware of people” (Participant 7). It is clear that the environment plays a central role in the development of healthy lifestyles.
In conclusion, it is possible to state that university experiences have had a significant impact on the participants’ personal development. The major areas affected include extroversion, maturity, and independence. The interviewees emphasized that they have positive attitudes towards their university years as contributing to their personal development. Apart from being a certain kind of investment in their future (one that is necessary to acquire a good job), university experiences have made them more prepared for adulthood. The participants stress that they have become more flexible, open, and mature—all features that are vital for their successful transition to adulthood. It is necessary to note that this study has certain limitations as the number of participants is quite small. However, this research can become the basis for further studies aiming at the identification of major influences that university experiences have on students’ personal development. In future studies, it will be important to increase the sample size and ensure that the research participants are proper representatives of the student population at large.
Creswell, J. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Deliens, T., Clarys, P., De Bourdeaudhuij, I., & Deforche, B. (2014). Determinants of eating behaviour in university students: A qualitative study using focus group discussions. BMC Public Health, 14(1). Web.
McAdams, D. P. (2014). The art and science of personality development. San Francisco, CA: Cengage Learning.
Newman, B. M., & Newman, P. R. (2014). Development through life: A psychological approach. San Francisco, CA: Guilford Publications.
Patton, L. D., Renn, K. A., Guido, F. M., & Quaye, S. J. (2016). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice. Stamford, CT: John Wiley & Sons.
Roberts, B. W., & Nickel, L. B. (2017). A critical evaluation of the Neo-Socioanalytic Model of personality. In J. Specht (Ed.), Personality development across the lifespan (pp. 157-179). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
Scott, M., Whiddon, A. S., Brown, N. R., & Weeks, P. P. (2015). The journey to authenticity: An analysis of undergraduate personal development. Journal of Leadership Education. Web.
Interviewer (I): I am going to ask you a few questions about university and your expectations…
Participant (P): Okay.
I: And how you feel you’ve changed over your time at uni. I’m going to start off with a few general questions. So, what course do you study?
P: Erm, Business and Sociology
I: Uhmm, and you are second year right?
I: So, just before I go any further, are you okay with me recording this interview?
P: Oh, yeah
I: thats fine, I just have to ask the question as a psychologist
P: I understand
I: Erm, so first of all, what were your expectations of uni when you first started?
P: Erm, I didn’t really have much expectations. I know I was excited to start…
P: And I knew that some of my friends from school were going to be in my business lectures…so that made me feel better about everything because I already knew some people.
I: Before you started uni, what kind of person would you say you were?
P:….I think I was very like…I think i isolated myself a lot to be honest