Personal Identity

Photo of three young women in bright dresses and bare feet sitting on a bench

Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.

—Erich Fromm, psychologist

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe how personality tests and skills inventories help to evaluate career paths and identify personal interests to meet educational goals.
  • Describe the responsibilities of college student life and how they differ from high school or early career life

Assessing Your Values

The journey of achieving success in college begins with a single step: identifying your personal values. Your personal values are your core beliefs and guiding principles. They shape the roles you play in daily life. They color your interests and passions, and frame your thoughts and words. In essence, your values are a compass that help you make decisions and choices.

What are your values, then? Which are most important to you, and which are least important? How do your values fit into your educational goals? How do your educational goals relate to your future career?

To help you answer these questions, you can use a “self-assessment” survey. These surveys can help you evaluate your personal identity—your thoughts, actions, attitudes, beliefs, values, and behaviors—in relationship to the task at hand, like going to college and preparing for a career.

Many different self-assessment surveys are available from college career centers and online sites. Some are designed as personality tests, like the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, or as inventories, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI®), the most widely used personality inventory in history. You may also come across instruments designed as scales, or measures, games, surveys, and more. These descriptors are often interchangeably used, although most often they refer to questionnaires. The distinctions are not as important as whether or not the instrument meets your self-assessment needs.

Some popular, free surveys are noted here.

SURVEY INSTRUMENT DESCRIPTION
1 ISEEK Career Cluster Interest Survey

ISEEK Careers / Minnesota Colleges and Universities

This online survey lets you rate activities you enjoy, your personal qualities, and school subjects you like. Then you can see which career clusters are a match for your interests.
2 Values Clarification Questionnaire

InSite / Electric Eggplant

This online survey, in two parts, looks at the specific values of ambition, appearance, family, friendship, independence, wealth, education, freedom, happiness, privacy, security, honesty. A scorecard and interpretation are generated.
3 Career Interest Survey

CheckOutACollege.com / Community and Technical Colleges of Washington State

This online survey allows you to select activities you like to do, personality traits that describe you, and subjects that interest you. Auto results suggest one or more of sixteen career clusters that match your selections.

Responsibilities of Student Life

Stages of Life

Keep in mind that your personal values and interests can and will change as you get older. This is evidenced in research conducted by a number of contemporary social scientists, like Erik Erikson and Daniel Levinson. Their studies show how our values affect our choices and how our choices can characterize the stage of life we’re in.

For example, college students, ages 18–26, tend to make choices that are tentative and more short-range that support a desire for more autonomy.

Later in life from ages 27–31, young adults may rethink decisions and lean toward more permanent choices. In ages 32–42, adults tend to have a greater sense of commitment and stability, as shown by their choices. In sum, our personal identity and values change over time. They continue to affect our choices and can illuminate our stage of life. [1].

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Keeping in mind that there are many phases of life, you can expect to see changes in your values and choices as you get older. You may experience a significant change in perspective while you are in college! To better understand your relationship with your values, you can continually reassess what is important to you. Make a commitment to examining your thinking, actions, choices, and keep taking self-assessment tests. This will put you in a stronger position to manage changes in your educational goals, your career, living situation, hobbies, friends, and other aspects of your life. Changes are part of normal life transitions.

Student Responsibilities

Now that you have transitioned into college, you will have new responsibilities. Research has shown that students who get involved in career-planning activities stay in college longer, graduate on time, improve their academic performance, tend to be more goal focused and motivated. Overall these students have a more satisfying and fulfilling college experience. This is why an important first step in college is examining your personal identity and values. By examining your values first, you begin the process of defining your educational goals and ultimately planning your career.

Along with assessing your values is the importance of committing to your responsibilities as a student. What are your new student responsibilities? Are they financial? Course-specific? Social? Health-related? Ethical?

What exactly is expected of you as a student?

Expectations for student behavior vary from campus to campus. A Web search for “college student responsibilities” reveals the breadth of expectations deemed important at any given institution.

Overall students are expected to act consistently with the values of the institution and to obey local, state, and federal laws. It may also be expected that you actively participate in your career decision-making process, respond to advising, and plan to graduate. You may have even been required to take this course.

Institutions provide additional details about student responsibilities, and the details may be formal or informal. They may fall under academic expectations or a code of conduct. They may also include resources and recommendations.

Consult your college handbook or Web site for details about your rights and responsibilities as a student. Overall, you demonstrate that you are a responsible student when you do the following:

  • Uphold the values of honesty and academic integrity.
  • Arrive on time and prepared for all classes, meetings, academic activities, and special events.
  • Give attention to quality and excellence in completing assignments.
  • Allot sufficient time to fulfill responsibilities outside of class.
  • Observe etiquette in all communications, giving respect to instructors, fellow students, staff and the larger college community.
  • Take full advantage of college resources available to you.
  • Respect diversity in people, ideas, and opinions.
  • Achieve educational goals in an organized, committed, and proactive manner.
  • Take full responsibility for personal behavior.
  • Comply with all college policies.

By allowing these overarching principles to be your guide, you are embracing responsibility and making choices that lead to college success.

College vs. High School

If you know others who attend or have attended college, then you have a head start on knowing what to expect during this odyssey. Still, the transition from high school to college is striking. College life differs in many ways. The following video clip is a brief, informal student discussion about the challenges you may face as a student and provides examples of issues students face in transitioning from high school to college. Click on the “cc” box underneath the video to activate the closed captioning.

The two main problems identified in the video are time management and working in groups. Multiple strategies and solutions are shared by the students.

High school and college differ in some significant ways. According to a list of comparisons and contrasts from Southern Methodist University, in “How Is College Different from High School” they discuss some key differences to keep in mind:

  • There are rules in high school and in college so you have to make decisions responsibly.
  • In college, it’s up to you to make sure you understand the material being covered in class. It’s your responsibility to keep up with the readings and assignments.
  • In high school, your teachers made sure you understand facts and skills, and now that you’re in college, it’s up to you to apply what you have learned. Always consider who what you are learning can apply to your other classes or your future career.
  • In college, the professors expect you to participate more actively in reviews for exams and quizzes. Come to class with questions.

What are some recommendations that you’ve heard from your high school teachers that helped you prepare for college? Make a short list of the advice you got from your previous teachers.

Check Your Understanding

Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.

Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.


  1. Weiler, Nicholas W., and Stephen C. Schoonover. Your Soul at Work: Five Steps to a More Fulfilling Career and Life. New York: HiddenSpring, 2001. Print.