How to Write About Identity

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High school students often write essays about their self-identity as part of the college application process. College students -- majoring in psychology, sociology or a related social science -- typically write essays on general topics related to identity. When you write about self-identity or identity in general, focus on how it relates to experiences, perceptions and developmental stages. Use personal experiences, statistical data, real-life illustrations or examples from literature to back your paper.

1 Self-Identity: Background Information

Provide background information to support reasons for your self-identity. Explain how your upbringing, family, socioeconomic class, gender, race and religion influence your perceptions, goals and outlook on life. Discuss opportunities you've had and challenges you've faced over the years, advises the California Colleges webpage "Tips on Writing the UC Personal Statement." Avoid speculating on what you might have changed or how life could have been different and focus on concrete examples that explain and define your existing self-identity.

2 Self-Identity: Growth and Maturity

Tell a heartfelt story of how your identity developed over time. Consider whether you've always had specific personality traits and long-term goals or whether they changed during your academic career, suggests English professor Adela Najarro, at Cabrillo College in California. Provide personal examples, such as life-changing events or moments of revelation, that molded you into the person you are today. Discuss hobbies, interests and academic subjects you're excited about and how you've grown academically, mentally and socially throughout your high school or college years. The goal is to inform readers about what shaped your identity, including your experiences, passions and dreams.

3 General Identity: Developmental Stages

Discuss the correlation between identity and developmental stages. For example, you might explain how childhood sets the stage for developing identity, but it isn't until adolescence or young adulthood that individuals are typically forced to examine and fully develop their identities. You might use coming-of-age literary works, such as "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain or "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka as examples that back your thesis. Statistical data from psychology journals can be used to show when personal identity is most clearly realized and understood.

4 General Identity: Social Framework

Explain how social circumstances contribute to one's identity. For example, you might show how a strong support group, family backing, encouragement from others and positive peer relationships -- or the lack of these assets -- influence a person's self-perception. You might explain that mental illness, addictions and tragic life experiences also affect personal identity. Use documentation, such as interviews with serial killers and people who've left a positive mark on society, to support your thesis.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.