Faculty Spotlight: Emerging Adulthood

College students are at an interesting stage in their lives, in that they have surpassed their teen years but haven’t quite reached adulthood yet. To capture the uniqueness of this stage, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett called the time between ages 18 to approximately 25 “emerging adulthood.” During this time, college students face decisions regarding education, vocation, moving into the workforce, moving away from the family, and possibly, future marriage and parenting. Arnett defines emerging adulthood by five features: age of identity exploration, age of instability, age of self-focus, age of feeling in between, and the age of possibilities.

  • Age of identity exploration: individuals are trying to figure out who they are, what they want to do in life, and what their future looks like.
  • Age of instability: students are constantly moving around, with many changes in residence, employment, and relationships.
  • Age of self-focus: college students are also taking this time to focus on themselves, as they are no longer under parent or government direction, especially regarding school. They are focusing on their own knowledge and skills that they will need for adulthood.
  • Age of feeling in between: this new freedom is one of the reasons emerging adulthood is the age of feeling in between: individuals must start taking responsibility for certain aspects of their life but are not completely “adults.” Many will report the subjective feeling of being in a transitional period of life.
  • Age of possibilities: emerging adults are in a time of possibilities- they are optimistic about their futures even though not a lot as been decided for certain at this point in time.

These five features separate emerging adulthood from all other phases of life. There are both negative and positives to this life stage. It seems as if emerging adults are relying on their parents for a longer period of time, meaning it will take longer for them to become working members of society. Moreover, the many possibilities of this age makes it difficult for emerging adults to sort out all their opportunities, which may lead to increased rates of depression and anxiety. On the positive side, waiting to take on adult responsibilities allows emerging adults to focus on gaining knowledge and experience. Waiting to marry or make crucial decisions regarding work is also a positive, as judgment regarding such decisions will be more mature. To read more about this time period and the struggles emerging adults face, check out this excellent article:



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