The secret to college success

Closeup of a young happy business woman smiling confidently

(MoneyWatch) Could being hopeful give you an edge in college?

It just might, according to a small, but growing body of academic research.

In one study, for example, researchers found that hope among first-semester students at the law school at Indiana University-Purdue University was a better predictor of academic success than their previous ACT scores or their LSAT results. An examination of 100 students at two British universities found that hope was a better predictor of academic success than intelligence, personality or previous academic achievement.

In another study, conducted at an unnamed Midwestern state university, the graduation rate of "hopeful" students was 16 percent higher. Meanwhile students at a California university who underwent a 90-minute session in increasing their feelings of hopefulness were more likely to have made progress on their goals a month later.

Being hopeful correlates with self-esteem, optimism and the belief that a person is in control of his/her life. But experts say individuals can learn to enhance their level of hopefulness.

All of this research leads to the question of whether institutions should focus on helping their students become hopeful. Unfortunately universities have never seen this as their role. Robert J. Sternberg, a celebrated psychologist and senior vice president at Oklahoma State University, who was quoted in an Inside Higher Ed article, summed up the omission nicely:

"What universities traditionally do is a mistake," Sternberg said. "For me, the whole university is based around this notion that we're not just trying to teach kids a lot of facts and how to analyze those facts, but how to create meaningful lives."

A leader in hope

Chaffey College in California is one of the schools that is aiming to instill hope into students who are lacking it. Laura Hope, who is dean of instructional support, told Inside Higher Ed that what professors often mistake as indifference can actually be disengagement driven by fear. Teachers at the college are being taught to speak in a more hopeful manner with the aim of helping their students to become successful.

Bottom Line:
Perhaps the best thing you can do for your teenager, as you anticipate the day they depart for college, is to ensure that they leave with hope.