Symbolic Convergence Theory

Using Symbolic Convergence Theory to Discern and Segment Motives for Enrolling in Professional Master’s Degree Programs


Using Ernest Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory, the purpose of this study was to identify the fantasy types involved in student decisions to enroll in a professional master’s degree program in the investigating university.

The main premise of this theory is determining how groups bond through the key terms: rhetorical vision, fantasy theme, and fantasy chain. By applying this premise to the process of graduate students choosing to enroll in a particular master’s degree program, the author states that, “SCT’s capacity for explaining how people participate in the creation and sharing of common symbolic realities, a process that, typically, provides groups of people with meaning, emotion, and motives for action,” (Citation).

The research project focused on the following prompts for the participants to use to share their experiences, and react to the experience of others:

  • Describe events surrounding your decision to select your graduate program.
  • Describe personal experiences encountered in applying and gaining admittance to your program.
  • Discuss any anecdotes or stories heard from fellow program applicants regarding your selection and admission to your graduate programs.

The methodology for this study was organizing four focus groups of five to seven members, with fifty students from each of the 14 master’s programs randomly selected as participants. “During the first month of classes, four, hour-long, focus group sessions were held with 23 students representing 11 of the master’s programs…Audio tapes of each session were analyzed searching for recurrent content themes within and across groups that depicted participants’ views about the process of applying to, and deciding to enroll in, a graduate program at the investigating university,” (Citation).

The studies overall findings was that, “enrolling in a program and curriculum that fit what I need professionally” became the most important fantasy type needed to fully comprehend most graduate student’s decision making. A majority of the students in the study had fantasy types that correlated with the “Better Program, Quality University” rhetorical vision. If a business graduate sees that a university has a great business program or is highly known for it, then they believe that their ultimate experience at that university will be better academically and socially, than if they chose a university with a not-so-good business program.


Stone, J. F. (2002). Using Symbolic Convergence Theory to Discern and Segment Motives for Enrolling in Professional Master’s Degree Programs. Communication Quarterly, 50(2), 227-243.


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