The Unexpected Lessons. How University Influences Our Character Traits

So, you’re considering going to university. Your mind is likely swirling with thoughts of majors, degrees, student loans, and job prospects. You’re focused on the tangible benefits a university education can offer, which is undoubtedly a crucial aspect. But what if I told you that the university experience could enhance more than just your intellectual abilities?

Recent research suggests that attending university might significantly contribute to the development of specific non-cognitive skills. These aren’t your usual classroom-taught abilities. We’re talking about facets of your personality like agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extraversion. Intrigued? Let’s dive in!

The Incredible Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood

That journey you’re about to embark on, from adolescence into young adulthood, is filled with change. Not just physically, but emotionally and mentally as well. Throughout this period, people generally become more agreeable, more conscientious, and more emotionally stable. At the same time, they tend to become less open to new experiences and less extraverted. That’s just the typical path of maturation. But here’s where it gets interesting.

Shaping Character Skills

The university environment might alter this traditional maturation process. It’s a unique social ecosystem where you’re introduced to new peer groups and get the chance to engage in diverse extracurricular activities – be it sports, politics, art, or more. If you’re coming from a disadvantaged background, this change can be even more impactful.

How do you measure something as fluid and complex as character skills, you might ask? The answer lies in the Big Five personality traits widely recognized by psychologists – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. These traits serve as effective markers for differences in character skills, helping us understand how our personalities evolve.

To test the effect of university education, researchers kept an eye on the educational journey and character skills of 575 adolescents over eight years. Thanks to the comprehensive data provided by the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, they were able to compare character traits before potential university entry and again four and eight years later.

Agreeableness and Extraversion

So, what did they discover? For starters, every additional year spent at university led to increases in extraversion and agreeableness, especially for young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Rather than the typical decrease in extraversion as we age, university education seems to reverse this trend, leading to a more outward orientation.

In terms of agreeableness, students from disadvantaged backgrounds witnessed a tremendous boost. Their scores catapulted from the lowest baseline levels to the highest levels at the eight-year follow-up. The implications are pretty clear – exposure to university life, rather than just the academic content, fosters this character development.

Bridging the Inequality Gap

Here’s another fascinating insight. University education seems to level the playing field for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. These students, who started with lower agreeableness scores in adolescence, experienced a steep growth curve upon entering university. The result? They caught up with their peers from more privileged backgrounds, effectively reducing initial levels of inequality in agreeableness.

Personality Growth

This research offers an empirical look at the transformative role that university education plays in shaping adolescents’ character skills. It suggests that universities contribute to more than just subject-specific knowledge – they mold individuals by enhancing their sociability (extraversion) and tendency to cooperate (agreeableness).

The prospect of starting university might feel daunting, and the challenges along the way can be numerous. But remember this – alongside the academic knowledge you’ll gain, there’s a high chance you’ll also grow in ways you may never have anticipated. You’ll emerge not just with a degree in hand, but also with enhanced personality traits that can serve you well in your career and personal life.

To sum it up, university life equips you with more than just a wealth of knowledge and a shiny diploma. It also shapes your character skills, preparing you not just for a job, but for life.

Sonja C Kassenboehmer, Felix Leung, Stefanie Schurer. University education and non-cognitive skill development. Oxford Economic Papers, 2018; Link