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Understanding Women's Possible Selves and the Influences on these Selves at a Private, 4-year, Religiously-Affiliated College


While women now outnumber men in college attendance rates, the gender gap in occupations, salary and leadership persists. The purpose of this study was to extend the research on college women’s future thinking by exploring the possible selves and the influences on these selves of women at a private 4-year religiously affiliated college. The construct of possible selves has been used to better understand individuals’ views of their future thinking (Markus & Nurius, 1986). The investigator conducted three focus groups (15 students) followed by ten individual interviews in spring, 2015. Women were asked to share their future hopes, expectations and fears for the next five years as well as any factors or experiences that significantly influenced their future thinking. Women’s gender role beliefs were specifically queried as a possible influence. Three major themes and three unanticipated findings were identified. Anticipated themes included women’s lack of leadership aspirations, the role of faith in guiding women’s possible selves, and the influential role of family and faculty. Unanticipated findings included women’s high achievement expectations, adherence to gender role messages to do it all and do it all well, and the influence of study abroad experiences. These findings offer key insights to college administrators who shape student learning environments to best guide and support female students in thinking about their futures.

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