Today's 20-somethings pose new considerations for college admissions counselors

Donald HonemanBy Donald Honeman, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid
Clark University April 2012

As college admissions professionals and their secondary school counseling colleagues have worked with college bound seniors during the last decade, we have in large part based our work on the assumption that a college education would prepare young people for the selection of a clear professional path that would serve them well for a productive and fulfilling lifetime.

The work of Clark University Professor of Psychology Jeffrey Arnett focusing on the phenomenon of Emerging Adulthood prompts us to take a fresh look at the post-collegiate experience that defines the lives of many contemporary twenty-somethings. Research conducted by Professor Arnett suggests that the developmental tasks facing today's college graduates present a compelling case for re-considering how we advise prospective students and their families as the college selection process unfolds. A recent Clark University Symposium for college counselors explored ramifications for our profession presented by the emerging adulthood phenomenon.

Professor Arnett's research conducted over the last ten years is based on his conduct of wide-ranging interviews with young people in the 18- to 29-year age range who cover a broad swath of socio-economic demographic categories. He learned that the traditional patterns surrounding the adoption of a professional identity have shifted (on average, young people change jobs seven times before their 30th birthdays); marriage and committed relationships are typically postponed until later in this period by men and women alike; mobility and transient commitments are the norm; emerging adults are more accepting of differences in religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and thanks to social networking media and the emergence of a global culture, the lives of young people are becoming less localized.

The Clark Symposium provided an opportunity for a two-day examination of the ways in which Emerging Adulthood is changing the very nature of the undergraduate experience and of the ways it impacts the work of college advisers. Professor Arnett's presentation of his findings and the discussions that followed raised a number of issues that all of us in higher education should consider:

All of this leads to a fundamental re-consideration of the nature and purpose of the college advising professions. In the early stages of their Emerging Adulthood, young people view college opportunities through a different, although unfocused, lens than did their predecessors. We would be remiss in ignoring the implications of that shift for our work. Among the ones considered during the Clark symposium are these:

Professor Jeffrey Arnett has characterized Emerging Adulthood as an age of identity exploration, an age of instability, an age of self-focus, and an age of possibilities. Those of us who work with students as they enter their Emerging Adulthood phase would be well served to build an understanding of all of these characterizations into our professional lives.