The mind is a powerful thing…I was never a good student back in high school. No, let me rephrase that—I never thought I had what it took to be a good student, so at some point I just stopped trying, and then I really became not a good student. I never had much academic success, so I developed a pretty bad academic self–concept of myself as a result. Today, I know I could have been a good student if many things had been different—namely, my attitude.
Being a “good student” isn’t simply being intelligent. Being a good student involves a mindset which includes having a positive attitude towards learning, with beliefs that learning is important, that you have the ability to do everything it will take to achieve your academic goals, and that the outcome is worth it and within your control. Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior helps explain how attitudes relate to behavior, which can predict intention, which then predicts behavior (Gruman, Schneider, and Coutts, 2017). This constant loop of a relationship can be a powerfully positive one or a powerfully destructive one.
Academic self–concept has been shown to be strongly correlated with academic success, and is influenced by many factors. Complicating this whole process are many intervening variables as well, which can either work for or against someone’s academic self–concept. Subjective norms can be powerful influences on beliefs, intentions, behavior, and motivation—what others think can matter a great deal. Often, we meet the level of success that others around us expect of us, and a supportive environment can work wonders for behavioral change. Additionally, intention and motivation can be diminished if one perceives that they have a low level of behavioral control over the outcome—in this way, self–fulfilling prophecies about one’s own abilities to achieve success take root.
The process of achieving a positive academic self–concept includes not only attitudes, perceptions, motivation, and behavior, it also includes good experiences that will reinforce one’s evolving overall perceptions, intentions, and behavior. Negative experiences, resulting from actions such as repeatedly failing classes due to one’s behavior, such as cutting school or not studying, can have a strong negative impact on one’s academic self–concept. On the other hand, the skill development affect explains how positive experiences, such as receiving positive feedback from professors or getting a good grade on a midterm you studied hard for, can motivate us even more to continue this positive trajectory of our lives (Gruman et al., 2017, p. 224).
There are great rewards to positive behavioral changes. A positive academic self–concept can come anytime in life, people have it within their grasp to turn it around. For me, it has been developed and positively reinforced over the last four years at Penn State’s World Campus. Every new theory I learned or good grade I got after working hard on a paper was a building block for an improved academic self–concept. In addition, knowing that other students have the same motivation to perform well academically, despite many challenges, and receiving positive support from teachers and administrators, contributes to high positive outcome expectations (e.g. completing a difficult task, graduating) which then predict academic attitudes and academic performance (Gruman et al., 2017). I believe change can happen as soon as you open your mind to change, but it’s not that easy—as Ajzen’s theory explains, it takes a lot of planning as well.
Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2017). Applied Social Psychology:
Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage. ISBN 9781483369730