New Mindset List gives insight into college freshmen

Mindset List authors Tom McBride Ron Nief Charles Westerberg

Mindset List authors Tom McBride Ron Nief Charles Westerberg

Each year three scholars at Beloit College develop a ‘Mindset List’ for the year’s entering college freshman class. This year’s entering college class of 2021 can’t remember when a “phone” wasn’t a video game and research library. Mostly born in 1999, they’ve always been searching for Pokemon. They’ve never read a Peanuts strip that wasn’t a repeat and they never had the privilege of a Montgomery Ward catalogue as a booster seat. They have persevered in a world without Joe Dimaggio and brightened by emojis. If you ask them about the whine of a dial-up modem, expect a blank stare.

These are among the items in this year’s Beloit College Mindset List, the 20th such release since the list was first compiled in 1998. The List’s current subjects are the last class to be born in the 1900s – the last of the Millennials. The Beloit College Mindset List is created by Ron Nief, Director Emeritus of Beloit College Public Affairs; Tom McBride, Professor Emeritus of English; and Charles Westerberg, Brannon-Ballard Professor of Sociology.

“Members of this class have generally borrowed a lot of money to go to college, so expect them to think of themselves as consumers and not just as students,” said Westerberg, former director of Beloit’s Liberal Arts in Practice Center. “And they will also be concerned not just with what they need to learn but also who they are and to what group they genuinely belong.”

Teachers and counselors alike have used the Mindset List over the years, sometimes as the basis for one-on-one chats, and at other times for class discussions and even personal essays. This year’s List is no different. The annual Lists are wonderful icebreakers for counselors and professors and students to stimulate intergenerational conversations.

This year’s List states that the class of 2021 is the last of the ‘Millennials.’ The next class will be the first born in the 2000s. How would they compare themselves with the first class born in the 20th century? What unforeseen events lay ahead for that class? What unforeseen events might lay ahead for the class of 2021? What was “normal” for the class of 1921? By way of contrast or similarity, what is “normal” for them today?

This class is the first class, in effect, to grow up with nothing but smartphones. Phones have always been “phones”: that is, used rarely for talking to someone and much more often as a video game or research library. How has this changed the world—not just their world but the world? How does daily life change when one doesn’t have to go “find” a computer in order to look something up, play a game, or send a message? Does such a former world seem positively “ancient” to them?

This year’s List asserts that they don’t just think of themselves as students but also as consumers. What are the implications of a world in which a class is evaluated less on the knowledge it supplies than on the career it will aid? Is this a good or bad thing? Might, for example, it force colleges to develop better educational “products”? What sorts of products?

This year’s List states that for the class of 2021 they have always had emojis to cheer them up. There are now thousands and thousands of these, and it seems there must be one for every emotion and mood. Is this a good or bad thing? Might emojis be replacing face-to-face expressions of emotions and the accompanying need to “talk things out”? Will emojis eventually cause an atrophy of emotional intelligence, or is that too fanciful an idea?

John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Martin Luther King, Jr. have, for the class of 2021, always been dead. What do they know about the whole Kennedy saga and is understanding the role of the Kennedys integral to grasping the history of the late 20th century? What do they know about the civil rights protests? Has there been any figure in their time that has matched the youthful inspiring idealism of John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s? Perhaps Barack Obama?

“Whatever the subject, there’s always been a blog for it,” says item 30 on this year’s List. This suggests that they have grown up in a world where knowledge and opinion has been extremely decentralized and varied. Does this suggest that in a sense all knowledge is equal? Are there some things that an educated person must know? What are those things? Or is education just a matter of learning a specialty? Or is it just a question of learning how to learn? If so, what does that mean, exactly?

Item 58 of this year’s List states that women have always “scaled both sides of Everest and rowed across the Atlantic.” By now of course “firsts” for women are common, and it is sometimes observed that it is much more interesting for older generations than it is for the younger ones, who have found such firsts as “normal” and not much to get excited about. What are the pros and cons of such an apparently jaded attitude towards the first-time achievements of women?

This year’s List (item 16) notes the triumph of Watson, the IBM’s fabulous bot, which outperformed a human competitor on the quiz show Jeopardy. Now it seems that Watson is being programmed to diagnose medical conditions—so Watson will truly become Doctor Watson. Do today’s young students worry about entering professions in which they can be replaced by machines? What do they consider to be the most “machine-exempt” professions, and what are their interests in those?

For more about the Mindset List, go the website: and to see the complete List, go the website: