'Mean Girls' at college: Social whirl derails many, study finds

Apr 03, 2013
'Mean Girls' at college: Social whirl derails many, study finds

(Phys.org) —You're not done with high school when you go to college, according to a new study of student culture.

An in-depth look at the lives of young women who started on the same floor of a large dorm at a middle-tier public university shows that the peer culture that divides students into homecoming queens, wannabes and thrives in college, to the disadvantage of many.

" and college administrators are naively optimistic about the atmosphere for freshman women in large party dorms," said Elizabeth Armstrong, a at the University of Michigan who conducted the study with colleague Laura Hamilton of the University of California at Merced.

"The pressures these young women encounter make it very difficult for them to focus on academics. For many, the experience is not a good one, and we found that it can affect the of their lives for many years to come."

Armstrong and Hamilton immersed themselves in the lives of 53 women as they moved into their dorm, following them for five years to see how their lives developed. Although only about a third of the women started their college years as socialites or wannabes, all of their lives were shaped by the dominance of the party pathway at this school. The party pathway was a set of social and academic arrangements—including a powerful Greek party scene and an array of easy majors—facilitating a primarily .

Even those who entered determined to succeed academically were judged by their success at attracting the attention of high-status men and making it into sororities. This culture is often referred to as "the college experience," Armstrong says. But in fact it's an experience that many students would do well to avoid—or to participate in only a bit.

In a new book based on the study, "Paying for the Party: How College Maintains ," Armstrong and Hamilton detail the experiences of the women, who had a great deal in common when they entered college but whose situations were dramatically different down the road.

For example, Taylor and Emma had strong academic records entering college and both aspired to be dentists. At the end of the study, Taylor was in dental school while Emma was working as a dental assistant—a job that does not require a college degree. Their fates diverged when Emma made it into an elite sorority and Taylor opted into a more studious sorority—a move supported by her college-savvy parents. Without highly educated parents like Taylor's, Emma needed academic and social supports not offered at this school to succeed.

Their stories are indicative of a broader pattern.

"We found that most of the women reproduced their parents' status," Armstrong said. "College did not act as a pathway to upward mobility for most."

Students whose parents had enough resources to bankroll their success in the Greek system did fine, making social connections that propelled them into post-college lives that equaled or exceeded the affluence of their parents. Those with highly educated parents like Taylor's were able to help avoid the lure of the party pathway and succeed academically. But for those from less affluent backgrounds, Armstrong and Hamilton found that the best approach was often to transfer to a smaller, less prestigious university that provided a better fit with their personalities and resources.

As anxious high school seniors and their parents wait for the word about college acceptance, Armstrong suggests that getting into their top choice school may not always be the best bet, particularly if it's known as a party school.

"Students and parents shouldn't be afraid of making a course correction if it's clear early on that the college they've chosen just isn't working for them," Armstrong said. "Sometimes going to the highest prestige place a student can get into is not the choice that leads to the best outcome.

"The fit between a student and a college should be considered, and this includes social fit as well as academic fit. The culture of the school is extremely important in determining what the impact of attending a particular school will be down the road."

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User comments : 22

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Lurker2358
1.5 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
Women aren't done with it in their 30's, 40's and 50's either. Just watch an episode or two of "Real Housewives".

The "adults" are actually worse than the teens.
beyondApsis
5 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
Women aren't done with it in their 30's, 40's and 50's either. Just watch an episode or two of "Real Housewives". The "adults" are actually worse than the teens.

It's entirely possible to not give a damn about what others think and remain totally impervious to the senselessness of cliques. People who don't base their self-worth on approval are ultimately more genuine and likeable people. Those were the I knew back then and they still are.

Where did you get your friends from to have acquired such a viewpoint? I guess I should also ask if you look to reality shows for reliable information and values assessments.
panorama
5 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2013
Where did you get your friends from to have acquired such a viewpoint? I guess I should also ask if you look to reality shows for reliable information and values assessments.


"Reality" shows.

I fixed it for you.
beyondApsis
5 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2013
"Reality" shows. I fixed it for you.

That corrective emphasis did give proper clarity to the inane anomaly to which I was referring. Thanks.
Lurker2358
2.1 / 5 (10) Apr 03, 2013
I don't think I've ever been in a social situation which wasn't dominated by cliques.

I don't know where you would find such a place.
Modernmystic
1.3 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
People who don't base their self-worth on approval are ultimately more genuine and likeable people.


Nice theory, but this does not exist in reality. I'll grant it's possible to be significantly intrinsically motivated, but NO ONE is totally extrinsically or intrinsically motivated. People are NOT machines and people DO care what others think about them to varying degrees.
kochevnik
4.6 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2013
People are NOT machines and people DO care what others think about them to varying degrees.
Age fixes that, LOL
Modernmystic
1.3 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
People are NOT machines and people DO care what others think about them to varying degrees.
Age fixes that, LOL


Not sure I would consider that a "fix". I find it a bit scary to imagine a personality so anti-social as to genuinely not care what others felt about their actions...
MandoZink
4.6 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2013
MandoZink
4.5 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
You know, I started to quote and address many of the comments just made here, but it's not important. You have the friends you have and maybe you deserve better, I don't know.

I am going over to a friend's house to play some mandolin right now. Time better spent. Certainly not anti-social by any means.
tadchem
4.8 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2013
If social abuse bothers you enough to 'derail' your academics, then you are placing too much value on the opinions of irrelevant people. You are evidently not mature enough for college.
Sometimes being 'autistic' can be an advantage.
Vyhea
4 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
People who steal are sure everyone steals.
People who cheat on their wives are sure everyone cheats on their wives.

People who worry about what other people think are sure everyone else does too.

People are funny. They sure want other people to be like them. What do you see in your mirror? Not everyone has your feckless needs and foibles.
Vyhea
3.7 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2013
Mando, I ranked your "blank" comment for what you didn't bother to post. You might just as well convince a fish that Jupiter has moons.
Modernmystic
1.3 / 5 (7) Apr 03, 2013
People who steal are sure everyone steals.
People who cheat on their wives are sure everyone cheats on their wives.

People who worry about what other people think are sure everyone else does too.

People are funny. They sure want other people to be like them. What do you see in your mirror? Not everyone has your feckless needs and foibles.


Does that mean that everyone who thinks that people project every aspect of their being outwards are just projecting too?

One can have an opinion about human nature and not be looking in a mirror "Horatio". There are more things under heaven and earth than are dreamed of in YOUR worldview too ;)
Modernmystic
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2013
I am going over to a friend's house to play some mandolin right now. Time better spent. Certainly not anti-social by any means.


Do you care what those friends think about you and your actions towards them? What about vice versa? If not maybe you deserve better friends too...
Frilla_Poo
2.5 / 5 (11) Apr 03, 2013
Hey, who needs friends when you... well... don't even know what they are?
Some here obviously got 'em. Some here are still tryin' to impress.
Solidproof_Layman
3.1 / 5 (8) Apr 03, 2013
Some here obviously got 'em. Some here are still tryin' to impress.

Odd conversations here. Why argue with with someones who's got friends to tell them they don't? If you need to argue about it - you probably don't know what they are.

The proof is in the content.
DirtySquirties
1.3 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
I have no friends, so I have no clue. :/
Modernmystic
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
Hey, who needs friends when you... well... don't even know what they are?
Some here obviously got 'em. Some here are still tryin' to impress.


So am I trying to impress my friends when I say hello and ask how their day went? According to what you all are saying as I understand it they shouldn't care one way or the other about your behavior. They should be equally fine with you slapping them in the face or giving them a hug. What about the other way around? You're being a hypocrite if you don't think so, and if you do think so then YOU don't know what it means to have friends...sorry to break it to you.

Now which is it...DOES it matter how you act towards your friends or other people OR NOT...have your cake or eat it. Because I assume you understand that your actions ARE going to affect how they think about you.

If you all truly believe the crap you're shoveling it's frankly amazing you've gotten this far in life OR you're not being very honest.
PeterD
1 / 5 (6) Apr 04, 2013
I figured out by the time I was eight, that I was vastly more intelligent than anyone else I had met in my life. I also realized that most people believed all kinds of nonsense that wasn't true. Through testing, I later discovered that I had an IQ of 180 . Thus, I really have never needed the approval of other people to boost my self-esteem. Since my family was very poor, I started my first business when I was eight, and have been essentially self-employed since then.I like people, I am always smiling, friendly and pleasant, and everyone likes me. Truly, all I ever wanted to do with my life was learn, but I learned early on not to let school interfere with my education. I never had any interest in working hard to buy more things. I have never figured out why most people spend their lives working to buy a bigger house, a better car, and expensive watch, designer clothes, etc. Do they do this to boost their self-esteem, or impress other people? I never needed anyone's approval.
antialias_physorg
2.5 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2013
If social abuse bothers you enough to 'derail' your academics, then you are placing too much value on the opinions of irrelevant people. You are evidently not mature enough for college.

Good point.
On the other hand: jobs aren't all about academics. You will not be entirely spared the 'wannabes' or the 'prom queens' as co-workers. (Though, the more -academically- demanding your job the less of those people you will meet.)

Changing college as an 'answer' might not be the best idea, either. You'll have to learn sooner or later to cope with these people (or at the very least: being surrounded by them). If you haven't learned it in high school then college may be your last chance.
Because if you haven't mastered this by the time you leave college then you're lacking a very critical skill.

It's tough, but you can't run away from these situations your whole life.
Modernmystic
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 08, 2013
Do they do this to boost their self-esteem, or impress other people? I never needed anyone's approval.


I'm assuming you don't wear a clown suit to work, you drive reasonably close to the speed limit, you greet people in a respectful manner, you don't pick your nose and eat boogers, you keep up your personal hygiene....I could go on and on and ON. Basically nearly everything you do in your life if you're going to live with other people is about their approval to one degree or another. Them's the breaks...

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