What happens when you have a growth mindset at college…

As the Freshers Week hangover begins to subside and a semblance of sanity returns to student accommodation across the country, there will be tens of thousands of students waking up this morning (or early afternoon) to quite literally, the first day of the rest of their lives, AKA the first day of college.

With many undergraduates leaving behind the only friends, family and life they have known, flying the nest and embarking on a university course will be their biggest challenge to date. Over the coming months and years, this new cohort will be exposed to new and different people, views, experiences, thoughts, responsibilities and most importantly, opportunities.

In order to seize upon these opportunities as and when they present themselves, it would be a prudent scholar who made their first lesson in college life one around the importance of having a growth mindset.

By studying the behaviour of thousands of students over the past 30 years, world leading motivation researcher and Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dweck noticed two very disparate attitudes towards motivation and success in her subjects. The first group, labelled as having a ‘fixed’ mindset, believed that their basic qualities, such as their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits that could not be improved upon. The second group, those with a ‘growth’ mindset, believed that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and persistence. They believed that brains and talent are just the starting point and that success is the result of hard work, not genetics.

The effect of a growth mindset was later quantified in Dweck’s study on the academic performance of 7th grade students in America. She followed their progress through to the end of 8th grade and found that those with a growth mindset consistently improved their grade point average over the two years of study, while those with a fixed mindset remained the same. This small piece of evidence supports an often-heard maxim that is reinforced in endless books, journals and articles on the subject of success – ‘what you think, you become’.

The intrinsic belief that you alone are able to improve your circumstances and prospects in life equips you with the tools needed to make this happen. Whether it be in your next exam, your final year dissertation or on the varsity sports team, a growth mindset will enable you to push yourself through those boundaries that others let confine them.

Academia aside, the implications of a growth mindset reach into every facet of a person’s life. The curiosity to question the things that happen around you and the belief that you can improve your lot in life leads to new opportunities for those with the desire to seek them. Such opportunities will come in abundance throughout a person’s time at college. This may be in the form of a new group of friends, a new college society, a new field of study, a new job to fund your studies, or even a new business idea.

For an example of how a growth mindset can spot and seize opportunities while at college, we need to look no further than Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. A gifted programmer, he had already worked on several projects before launching Facebook from his dormitory room at Harvard. The initial idea was just to form a network that would connect his peers at Harvard but after seeing the real potential of this concept, Zuckerberg made it his mission to first of all spread this further afield to other campuses before eventually taking over the globe. Zuckerberg’s ability to see the bigger picture and work towards achieving greatness is borne out of a mentality that doesn’t back down when faced with a huge, seemingly impossible challenge.


It is widely understood that college can be the perfect place to meet new people, exchange ideas and make plans for the future, whilst equally, the perfect place to hide away and do as little as possible. For many, this will be the first time in their academic career they have been left to their own devices, with little direction as to how much of what should be studied and when. Those who meander through their degree on a mental diet of Vodka Jelly and Jeremy Kyle will, at the end of it all, not really have made much progress and may end up ruing the missed opportunities that others around them exploited. Yes, you may have a few extra letters after your name and a qualification to write on your CV, but what did you really learn, about yourself?

Those with a growth mindset will capitalise on this newfound independence and not fall prey to the lure of laziness. They will be heading out into the world of work in a few years’ time armed with a full understanding of their capabilities and a belief and inner confidence that hard work and perseverance will further improve these capabilities. In turn this will allow them to compete with the best and ultimately be the best.

So, with a clean slate to write their future on, we would urge the freshmen of 2016 to turn off the daytime TV, start thinking with a growth mindset and make today count. Unless you get out there and start challenging yourself, you won’t know what opportunities may be passing you by.

Comments are closed.