Either Perfect or Meaningful: Identity Development, Perfectionism, and Emerging Adults’ Search for Meaning in Selective Higher Education Institutions

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Thesis or dissertation

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Emerging adulthood is a time for young people to both develop their identity and decide what constitutes a meaningful life. Selective undergraduate institutions are ideally positioned to facilitate this development, providing space and resources for exploration and reflection. At the same time, the levels of psychological distress experienced by modern college students, particularly in selective institutions, has attracted growing attention and concern. Specifically, growing levels of perfectionism have been identified in both data and students’ narratives of life on campus. Selective colleges and universities have developed a variety wellness programs and centers, many of which are grounded in the research and application of positive psychology. Yet perfectionism, particularly as it relates to extrinsic motivation and social isolation, may undermine the search for and presence of meaning in life. This paper examines the potential incompatibility between high perfectionism and the development of meaning in life, suggesting that research look at the developmental trajectory of perfectionism and meaning development for college students in selective institutions. Implications for college and university well-being programs are also discussed.


meaning, perfectionism, higher education, identity development, emerging adulthood


Education, Other Topics



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Date Posted: 30 October 2019