The path to a college degree can be tough. Sometimes, students face difficulties that shake their confidence in themselves and their ability to succeed. As a college professor, it is common for a student to visit my office after a difficult exam questioning whether they are “college material” or wondering if they can “actually” do better. Of course, students’ beliefs are important when it comes to college persistence and success. A wealth of educational and psychological research suggests that students who maintain the belief that they will succeed in college are more proactive in seeking academic support, tend to earn higher grades, and are less likely to drop out of school.
I recently published a pair of studies in The International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology on the role of meaning in helping students maintain positive beliefs about succeeding in college. Psychologists define meaning in life as a person’s sense that their existence and what they do is important, purpose-driven, and makes sense. People who view their lives as meaningful tend to be happier and healthier, and they are better able to navigate life’s challenges to accomplish their goals. This is because feeling like one’s life is purposeful and important is inspiring; it gives people reason to get up in the morning, provides direction, and drives action.