Have you ever felt self-conscious? Due to the culture and society that we are all currently living in, where social comparison is at our beck and call, being self-conscious is somewhat inevitable. A sociology course called Self & Society, that Longwood University students can enroll in, brings to light a lot of the aspects that make up a person's identity in today’s society.
I’ve found that on average, college students will say that they are moderately confident in themselves and their ability to succeed in college. Although some have a negative self-concept, there are also some who have gained a more positive self-concept after coming to college.
I anonymously asked 15 Longwood students questions about their self-esteem, self-confidence, and what that means to them thus far in their college careers. The 15 individuals range from second through fourth-year students, students involved in Greek life, student-athletes, and students who took a gap year or two before attending Longwood.
Looking at self-esteem from a sociological perspective can give insights into some outside influences that can affect one's self-esteem. Dr. Jake Milne, a sociologist and professor at Longwood, defines self-esteem as, "One's sense of worth. It’s how they feel about themselves, and how worthy they feel about themselves."
According to Milne, a college student's self-esteem connects to one, their academics and two, their social life. Both are aspects that are known to be a large part of an average student's college experience, and what shapes their experiences.
A fourth-year student said, “My self-esteem in high school was terrible. But now, because of college, I have a really high self-esteem since I’ve been able to find my passions.” Those passions being described could be associated with joining clubs and organizations, finding a new hobby, or even finding a dream job in their given field.
Depending on the individual, their college experience can take a positive or negative toll on their sense of self. But to the 15 individuals I spoke to, they all felt that college has positively influenced their self-esteem. For example, one individual said that she cares a lot more now and is a much more put-together person ever since coming to college, "I’m actually kind of a grown-up now."
The same student indicated that a reason she felt more grown-up is because of the way she carries herself now due to the college environment, and the sense of responsibility that comes along with the new environment.
The other individuals who answered the same questions felt that those positive and negative ways included: becoming more outgoing, changing mindsets of comparing themselves to others, surrounding themselves with better people and situations, and gaining more self-confidence.
When asked about how their self-esteem has changed from high school to college, an individual said, "In high school, I was much shyer… but now in college, I feel like I've been able to open up, and my people skills have gotten better. And I think that it's partly because of the college environment."
The college environment has to do a lot with social aspects, and the people involved in one’s everyday life while on a college campus. Milne had indicated previously that a person’s self-esteem is connected to one’s social life, which is described as time being spent doing enjoyable things with others.
With a person's self-confidence being interconnected and associated with their self-esteem, it helps to know the aspects that affect it the most. By definition, self-confidence includes knowing your strengths and weaknesses, along with being self-aware. Which then translates to being proud of what makes you, you.
When asked to rate their overall self confidence level out of five, the average answer from all 15 of the individuals was a 3.4. Which then led to over half of the 15 individuals explaining what they are most proud of within themselves, and that was their work ethic; for example, an individual said, "I'm proud of how hard I've worked in life…nothing has been handed to me, especially in college."
While one’s work ethic in college is discussed and dealt with a lot, social comparison among college students is a topic that is not discussed enough. Social comparison is a process through which we compare ourselves to others in order to determine how we feel about the things around us and a part of us.
Milne said, "Something I hear from students all the time is 'I don't care what other people think about me.' And the reality is… we need to care more about what other people think, and how we think others see us because that's where we generate that more positive self-concept."
A person's self-concept is one of the most important things that make up how they feel about themselves. The first step to improving one's self-esteem is to become self-aware. And according to Milne, "Putting yourself into situations where you can be successful" is an easy way for students to improve their self-esteem while in a college environment.
Sometimes seeming little things, like restarting a hobby, can boost self-esteem. "I was really depressed and unhappy. So I started working with flow paintings because then I couldn't compare my work to others... after I did a few I remembered how much joy art brought me, and now it's part of my weekly routine," said a student who took a gap year before attending Longwood.
While the college environment is ever-changing and everyone is continuing to learn more strategies to improve their self-esteem, consider watching this inspiring and empowering TedXYouth talk to implement more positive self-esteem into your own life.