Self-Authorship and Transitions Development

This page will review the following theories:

  • Kegan’s Theory of Evolution of Consciousness
  • Baxter Magolda’s Theory of Self-Authorship
  • Schlossberg’s Transition Theory

Kegan’s Theory of the Evolution of Consciousness

  • Kegan refers to his theory as the “personal unfolding of ways of organizing experiences that are not simply replaced as we grow but subsumed into more complex systems of mind” (Evans et al., 2010, p. 178).


Basically, we know what we know through the development of our consciousness. Growing requires moving through five orders of “knowing:”

  • Order 0 : Most common in newborns ages 0-18 months, “living in an objectless world, a world in which everything sensed is taken to be an extension of the infant.”
  • Order 1: Around age 2, children are aware of their reflexes and realize objects are independent from themselves
  • Order 2: Instrumental Mind—“durable categories” are constructed such as “classifications of objects, or ideas with specific characteristics”
  • Order 3: Socialized Mind—“cross-categorical thinking,” a person is able to connect one durable category to another (see order 2)
  • Order 4: Self-Authoring Mind—the ability to “generalize across abstractions” which is also labeled as “systems of thinking”
  • Order 5: Self-Transforming Mind—generally, individuals never reach this stage before the age of 40, the ability to see beyond themselves, stages, others and systems to understand how “all people and systems are interconnect[ed]”

Baxter Magolda’s Theory of Self-Authorship

  • Baxter Magolda defines self-authorship as “the internal capacity to define one’s beliefs, identity, and social relations” and answers the three following questions (Evans et al.,2010, p.184).

How do I know?  Who Am I?  How do I want to construct relationships with others?

Four phases towards self-authorship:

  • Phase 1: Following Formulas—allowing others to define who you are, “young adults follow the plans laid out for them” while assuring themselves they created these plans themselves (p.185)
  • Phase 2: Crossroads—The plan’s a student has been following do not necessarily fit anymore, and new plans need to be established. Students are dissatisfied with self. As student development professionals, we should be extremely adept at seeing this stage and know how to guide our students to a life of purpose when they are at the “crossroads.”
  • Phase 3: Becoming the Author of One’s Life—creating the ability to choose own beliefs and stand up for them (especially when facing conflict or opposing views)
  • Phase 4: Internal Foundation—“grounded in their self-determined belief system, in their sense of who they are, and the mutuality of their relationships” (p. 186)

In order to develop a strong internal foundation, students need to trust the internal voice and build an internal foundation.

How does this theory apply to student development professionals?

  • “Students who worked with advisors who encouraged reflection in goal setting and intentional planning and discussed with students their nonacademic life experiences were more likely to develop abilities and perspectives associated with self-authorship” (Evans et al., 190).

Schlossberg’s Transition Theory

  • If you have ever played the board game LIFE, Schlossberg’s Transition Theory won’t come as a big surprise. Like LIFE, transition theory helps adults process and grow from unexpected (real) life turns.

According to Evans et al. (2010), Schlossberg’s Transition Theory exists “to develop a framework that would facilitate an understanding of adults in transition and aid them in connecting to the help they needed to cope with the ‘ordinary and extraordinary process of living.’”

What is a transition?

  • Good question! Goodman et al. (2006) defines a transition as “any event, or non-event, that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles.” Transitions can be positive or negative experiences and endues positive or negative stress, emotions or reactions. Transitions are all about perception! (and only exits in definition to the individual experiencing it). Very important!
  • The three transitions types are anticipated (such as expecting to graduate for college), unanticipated (divorce, sudden death, not being accepted to graduate school, etc.) or a nonevent.
  • Transitions have context and are determined by the individuals relationship to the environmental setting in which the transition is occurring.
  • The impact of the transition varies depending on the alterations it causes in an individual’s daily life.

Transitions usually occur as a series of phases, which are called “moving in,” “moving through,” and “moving out.” Transitions are a process and occur over time.

The 4 S’s

The four factors that affect one’s ability to cope with transition are: situation, self, support and strategies.

  • Situation
    • Trigger, Timing, Control, Role change, Duration, Previous experience with a similar transition, Concurrent stress, Assessment
  • Self
    • Two kinds: personal & demographic characteristics (SES, gender, age, health, ethnicity, culture etc.) and psychological resources (ego development, outlook, commitment, resilience, spirituality, self-efficacy, values etc.)
  • Support
    • Types (intimate, family, friends, institutional), functions (affects, affirmation, aid, honest feedback) & measurements (stable and changing supports)
  • Strategies
    • Three categories: Modify the situation, control the meaning of the problem, or aid in the managing of stress afterwards
    • Four coping models: information seeking, direct action, inhibition of action, intrapsychic behavior

Go ahead, spin the LIFE wheel. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to draw the Student Development Professional career card paired with $100,000 per year!


This page was written and created by Ashlie Baty. Please use the comment section below to ask questions, provide reflection, discussion and/or feedback. To contact directly about this page, please see Ashlie Baty at


1 Response to Self-Authorship and Transitions Development

  1. Hong Nguyen says:

    This is usefule information for Student Affairs professional to cope with daily support and assistance to college student development.

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