Just be Yourself: The role of personality in coping with applying to college
Thanks to many of you for the signs of support and interest in my doctoral research. I wanted to post some additional information about my research and what we found in hopes that it may be helpful to you and your family. Please forgive my academese.
The college choice requires the adolescent to gather and synthesize vast amounts of information, reconcile sometimes competing personal and familial goals, and manage a range of emotions. This decision process represents a major developmental crisis with which the adolescent must cope. Scholars have noted that psychological strain and heightened anxiety may commonly accompany the college search. One explanation for the adverse reactions some adolescents have to the college search is that some employ less effective coping strategies to manage their emotions and behaviors to address or adapt to the stress of this major decision than others. The purpose of the study was to ascertain the nature of the relationship between Myers-Briggs personality preferences and college search related coping behaviors in a sample (n=285) of 11th and 12th grade students at a high school in central Tennessee.
We found that introverts were much more likely to cope by disengaging from the college choice process, while extraverts were much more likely to engage in the choice process. In addition, considering whether someone was an introvert or extravert significantly added to our ability to predict how someone would cope with the college search process after controlling for important demographic variables (gender, ethnicity, first-generation status, and academic achievement level). We also found that people who preferred a more structured and orderly approach to life (J-types) were siginificantly more likely to cope by trying to deal directly with the source of the stress (called primary coping, which has been shown to be the most effective kind of coping). In fact, whether you were a J or a P on the Myers-Briggs significantly predicted how you would cope with the college application process.
So what does that mean? First, the adage that the more organized you are in your college search, the better off you’ll be, seems to be great advice. In this world there are pilers and there are filers. You know those pilers, they keep papers in stacks and don’t mind a little clutter in their rooms. And then there are filers where there’s a place for everything, and everthing is in its place – order rules. When it comes to applying to college, embrace your inner filer, even if you are a piler.
The more troubling takeaway though, is the indication that introverts are much more likely to disengage from the college search process. There may be some dynamics of the college search and application experience that may explain this tendency. One factor may be the very public and social nature of the college search. Often, when others around the student (employers, peers, teachers, or family members) know that he or she is applying to college, it becomes a recurring focus of conversation. This constant attention on such a highly personal decision may overload the introvert and thus trigger a retreat coping response. In addition, a central requirement of the college application process is that a college applicant must externally present or package (some would argue) various components of him or herself for evaluation by colleges. This task may be perceived as too daunting for an introvert. In reaction, the introvert may retract to collect his or her thoughts and deal with the stress alone.
Whatever the explanation, the place of the introverted student (estimated to be between 35-45% of the American high school population) in college admissions is a topic that derserves a deeper dialogue. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.