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You're not alone: how normalizing struggle can help first generation college students

Why do some college students need to hear those simple words: "It's not easy for anyone?" 

College graduation rates for lower-income and minority college students are far too low. But now a new study demonstrates that students can avoid academic trouble in the first place if they get appropriate counseling before college or during their freshman year - even if the counseling only happens over the internet.  

The important thing is that the counseling must let students know that it is common for students to struggle with the transition to college, and that this transition will get easier with time.  

The researchers conducted three double-blind randomized experiments to test the effects of Internet-based interventions for students who come from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The experiment tested a few kinds of interventions: 

  • Counseling to develop a growth mindset (the idea that most skills can be developed through dedication and hard work) and/or: 
  • Counseling to develop students' feelings of social belonging in college (by showing students that all kinds of students struggle with the transition to college); 
  • or an intervention that included both of these.

The data from the experiment demonstrates that interventions improve student outcomes by as much as forty percent, either in terms of first year GPA or continued full-time enrollment, and in some cases, showing students that the transition is hard for everybody was far more effective than working to instill a growth mindset.   

Adapted from Ars Technica, or for a more detailed description of the study, click here