September 05, 2011

Becoming a College Student: A Study in Socialization

ksternheimerBy Karen Sternheimer

Did you recently start college? If so, you are experiencing a major lesson in the process of socialization.

Socialization entails learning to be a member of a group. True, we are all individuals who bring our unique selves into any social interaction, but part of entering a new group involves learning its norms, rituals, routines, and rules.

Some of these lessons will be explicit: your professors will likely hand out syllabi with the rules, policies, and practices for each class. Your school probably has a set of written guidelines to let you know its policies on academic integrity, what happens if you need to drop a class, and other things you might never have thought about (a suggestion: if you haven’t already, go ahead and peruse the rules of your campus; you might break some you weren’t even aware of otherwise).

Most of the process of socialization you will experience will not come from any written documents; they will come from interacting with your peers, faculty and staff. These experiences might be the most challenging because you might find that the rules change depending on the people, time and place.

Some profs want you to call them by their first name; others will be offended if you do. Some staff members are open to walk-in appointments, while others stick to a schedule of appointments. Need to turn in a paper late? Some TAs will let a deadline slide, others will strictly adhere to deadlines. All of this can be very confusing when you are trying to figure out how to be a college student. clip_image002

This is especially tough if you are living on your own for the first time. You may have once had a curfew, and now you might be able to stay out as long as you like. Your parents might have taken care of all sorts of things you now have to deal with, like paying bills, doing laundry and other basic cleaning. Meal times might have been regular in your household; now you can eat at a variety of different times and you may have a much larger selection of food to choose from (thus the phrase “freshman fifteen”). You may find yourself eating with different friends each day, or eating alone from time to time. It is particularly hard to adjust to new classes—and perhaps more difficult ones than you are used to—when everything else in your life is changing too.

If you live with a roommate on campus, that creates a whole new set of challenges. For the first time, you might be sharing a room and have to learn to cooperate with someone who might keep a different schedule than yours or have different cleanliness standards. They may have very different interests from you or have a background that is very different from your own. Learning to get along with a roommate can be one of the biggest obstacles new students face.

As sociologist Dalton Conley recently wrote in a New York Times op-ed, having a roommate who is from another culture can help create tolerance (although roommates can also negatively impact each other’s binge drinking). The skills one builds from living with a roommate are some of the unwritten lessons a college education provides; it never hurts to learn to get along with someone under sometimes difficult circumstances. As Conley writes:

Other than prison and the military, there are not many other institutions outside the college dorm that shove two people into a 10-foot-by-10-foot space and expect them to get along for nine months. Can you think of any better training for marriage?

Navigating romantic relationships can be a challenge too. Having lots of private space can mean that relationships become sexual much more quickly than they did when students lived with their parents. Sociologists have studied the so-called “hook-up culture” on college campuses and found that many students are ambivalent about it. They may feel that others are having casual sex regularly, and that it is therefore “normal” and part of being a college student. The same goes for binge drinking.  

Socialization is not merely about conformity; just because students might think “everyone is doing it” it doesn’t mean they will too. Instead, socialization is a process of learning what it means to be a member of a group and navigating one’s sense of self as part of that process. Because there are many different groups on a college campus, socialization might include finding like-minded peers on campus to differentiate one’s self from others and develop closer bonds with some group members (as in fraternities and sororities).

Think of all of the ways you are learning (or once learned) how to be a group member. Do you wear your college t-shirt, sweatshirt, or hat regularly? Attend a football game? Join a club? Start a new club? All of these are important socialization experiences that you are actively taking part it, whether you conform or not.

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Comments

Thank-You For all of the tips, all be starting college/cegep soon, so now i know what to watch out for!

Thank you for this article on socialization. It was helpful for my sociology class!

This is a very interesting post because it sort of relates to field research in sociology. By this I mean the researcher has to change and evolve onesself to fit the trends and regulations for whatever environment they are going into. It talks about conformity which is a big part of social aspects of being around others and obversing their daily lives.

Thank you for this article on socialization. It was helpful for my sociology class!

This article was very interesting. It really helps me understand what college life is like, and shows tips on what to look for, and how to better your experience of college. This class was really helpful for not only my sociology class but also the information is helpful to me since I'm going to college next fall. Thank you!

In the chapter we read this we week, we learned about socialization and what roles people take on and put themselves into. When put into a different atmosphere, as you said, people can change to fit into a group. With so many changes going on in a situation like starting college, people may do abnormal things to try to find conformity. Thank you, this article helped a lot for my sociology class!

In the chapter we read this we week

the chapter we read this we week, we learned about socialization and what roles people take on and put themselves into. When put into a different atmosphere, as you said, people can change to fit into a group. With so many changes going on in a situation like starting college, people may do abnormal things to try to find conformity. Thank you, this article helped a lot

the chapter we read this we week, we learned about socialization and what roles people take on and put themselves into. When put into a different atmosphere, as you said, people can change to fit into a group. With so many changes going on in a situation like starting college, people may do abnormal tarot

the chapter we read this we week, we learned about socialization and what roles people take on and put themselves into. When put into a different atmosphere, as you said, people can change to fit into a group. With so many changes going on in a situation like starting college, people may do abnormal things to try to find conformity.

The aspects brought up in your article about socialization in college life are accurate and a present in today's reality. there are so many challenges we go through in college, and it is nice to have them explained to you. =)

This is especially tough if you are living on your own for the first time. You may have once had a curfew, and now you might be able to stay out as long as you like. Your parents might have taken care of all sorts of things you now have to deal with, like paying bills, doing laundry and other basic cleaning.

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