To get a student
perspective on the transition from college senior to graduate, 33 psychology
seniors wrote original essays describing a metaphor for their college
experiences. The 35 metaphors were assigned to a concept category
(control/struggle, engagement, satisfaction, status, change/development) and an
affective quality (positive or negative). Most students indicated that college
had been a struggle and that engagement or change had been a major theme of
their college experience. Few students perceived satisfaction or status as
central to their college experience. Teachers and administrators should put
more effort into evaluating and shaping student perceptions of the college
experience by emphasizing change as development rather than a struggle and by
easing student transition from freshman to graduate.
The college years bring
with them transitions. Freshmen make the transition from high school to college
(Jorgensen-Earp & Staton, 1991). At the end of their sophomore year,
students make the transition from lower- to upperclass students. And finally,
seniors are faced with the transition from college student to graduate.
Palladino and Tryon (1978) state that the freshmen years are the most stressful
for college students. However, other researchers have found that seniors
indicate more stress than freshmen (Graves, 1994; Woodmansee, 1995).
One goal of any university
should be to address student stress. Students who are stressed and having
trouble dealing with the stress need special attention to prevent them from
dropping out of school. Jorgensen-Earp and Staton (1991) discussed the
importance of examining the freshman perspective in an effort to improve
student retention. It seems equally important to discover the senior
perspective. Making the transition from senior to graduate is often stressful.
It is during this transition that decisions have to be made regarding the
future. Will the student go on to graduate school? Will the student take off a
year and then go to graduate school? Will the student try to get a job with a
bachelor's degree? And then there is the stress of leaving a family of friends
How can metaphoric language
represent the college experience? "Language is a tool for representing
experience, and tools contribute to creative endeavors only when used"
(Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986, p. 25). Muran and DiGiuseppe
(1990) described two purposes of metaphor within a cognitive framework: to
describe an experience and to generate new awareness about that experience. Metaphors
describe and evoke feelings (Feinstein, 1985). Metaphor helps to convey affect
by comparing one idea, event, or object to something else that has an emotional
quality (e.g., "College was a roller-coaster ride"). Metaphor conveys
feelings when words by themselves are insufficient (Fine, Pollio, &
Simpkinson, 1973). Roberts and Kreuz (1994) determined the unique communicative
goal for different figures of speech. They concluded that metaphors are used to
be eloquent, to compare similarities, to add interest, and to clarify. It is
the purpose of this study to have senior psychology majors describe their
perspectives of their college experiences using self-generated metaphors.
The participants in this study were 33 college seniors (10 men and 23 women)
from Christian Brothers University, a small private university in Memphis,
Tenn. All participants were majoring in psychology.
In fulfillment of the requirements for a comprehensive assessment prior
to graduation, all psychology majors were responsible for developing a personal
portfolio that included specific documents providing evidence of academic and
personal progress toward their degree. Each portfolio included an original
essay by the student that identified and described an appropriate metaphor for
the student's college experience. Seniors presented their portfolios to the
faculty of the behavioral science department during the month of April, 1994
Thirty-five metaphors were generated by the participants (one student generated
three metaphors). Using the method of Jorgensen-Earp and Staton (1991), the
researcher assigned each metaphor to an emergent concept category. A colleague
independently assigned the same metaphors to a concept category. Four of the
concept categories came from Jorgensen-Earp and Staton: (a) control/struggle (a struggle for control
or success), (b) engagement (a
search for his/her niche), (c) satisfaction
(with college experience), and (d) status
(compared with others in the college environment). An additional concept
category emerged for the present study: change/development
(as a person). See Table 1
for the metaphors in each concept category.
The researcher and a
colleague independently rated each metaphor as reflecting either a positive or
negative perspective on the college experience. There was 100% agreement on the
assignment of affect. The two raters initially disagreed on 50% of the concept
category assignments. One hundred percent agreement was reached after
2 shows the percentage of metaphors for each concept category broken down
into positive and negative affect. Table 3
displays the percentage of positive and negative metaphors for each concept
category. Tables 4 and 5 present
the percentage of positive and negative metaphors and the percentage of
metaphors in each concept broken down into male and female students.
It was the purpose of this study to evaluate psychology seniors' perspectives
of their college experiences through self-generated metaphors. Overall, about
half of the students perceived their experience in a negative way. This
suggests that for these students college had been stressful. Most of the
students saw college as a struggle, with most of those descriptions being
negative. The next largest group of students described college as engagement or
a process of change or development. Those students viewing college as engagement
for the most part saw it in a negative way. However, the students describing
college as change or development indicated it had been a positive experience.
Few students indicated that satisfaction or status were central to their
experiences. Those two students that did write about satisfaction and status
described their experiences in a positive way.
The results suggest that
many of the seniors saw their college experience as a struggle for engagement.
As freshmen they struggled to find their niche in college, but as upperclass students, they struggled to find
their place in society. The
theme of the journey (trip, walk to Grandma's, up a mountain) is repeated. The
students are going somewhere. The struggle for them is not only in getting
there, but also in knowing where they are going.
It would seem that the
students emphasized the struggle of reaching their goals. All journeys require
change, but change does not have to be perceived as a struggle. Teachers,
college administrators, counselors, and staff play a role in student
perceptions of college. They should work on student perceptions. They need to
emphasize that change is development rather than struggle. They need to ease
students' transitions from freshman to senior to graduate as these students focus
on their engagement in society.
Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M.
(1986). Women's Ways of Knowing: The
Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. United States: Basic Books.
Feinstein, H. (1985). The
metaphoric interpretation of art for therapeutic purposes. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 12, 157-163.
Fine, H. J., Pollio, H. R.,
& Simpkinson, C. H. (1973). Figurative language, metaphor and
psychotherapy. Psychotherapy: Theory,
Research and Practice, 10, 87-91.
Graves, K. (1994). Gender and self-esteem. Unpublished
manuscript, Christian Brothers University, Memphis, TN.
Jorgensen-Earp, C. R.,
& Staton, A. Q. (1991). Student metaphors for the college freshman
experience. Communication Education, 42,
Muran, J. C., &
DiGiuseppe, R. A. (1990). Towards a cognitive formulation of metaphor use in
psychotherapy. Clinical Psychology Review,
Palladino, J. J., &
Tryon, G. S. (1978). Have the problems of entering freshmen changed? Journal of College Student Personnel, 9,
Roberts, R. M., &
Kreuz, R. J. (1994). Why do people use figurative language? Psychological Science, 5(3), 159-163.
Woodmansee, E. (1995). Freshman and senior self-esteem.
Unpublished manuscript, Christian Brothers University, Memphis, TN.
professor of psychology and chair of the Behavioral Sciences Department at
Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn. Dr. Nelson received her PhD in
psychology from Kansas State University, where she also earned an MA in French.
Her research interests are in gerontology and psycholinguistics. She is also an
enthusiastic Star Trek fan and X-phile.