The study took place at a public university in Texas. Incoming students reviewed pre-orientation materials online—including text that served as the intervention—one week before arriving on campus for the full orientation.
Across the 7,343 students in the analytic sample that included all four study conditions, 46% were White, 18% were Asian, 5% were Black, and race was not specified for 31% of the sample. Twenty-four percent were Hispanic. Approximately 17% were first-generation college students and 83% were continuing-generation.
In an online session lasting approximately 30 minutes, students in the Growth Mindset intervention group read an article summarizing research showing that the brain is malleable and that intelligence can grow if students exert effort when facing a challenge. Next, students read stories from upper-class students that described how they had overcome early struggles in college. These stories conveyed messages that initial struggles in college, such as receiving low grades, getting critical feedback from a professor, or having difficulty with the college bureaucracy do not imply that a student is “dumb” or unprepared for college; rather, these challenges suggest that students may learn more effective study strategies by asking for help and that the “knowing how” part of their brain was still developing. Finally, students wrote an essay, to be shared with other first-year students facing struggles, that described how these messages applied to their own experience adjusting to college.
In an online session lasting approximately 30 minutes, students in the comparison group read stories from upper-class students that described how they had adapted to the physical environment on campus and in the surrounding city. Next, students wrote an essay, an essay, to be shared with other first-year students facing struggles, about how students adjust to college.
Support for implementation
The university embedded the study materials within a set of online, pre-orientation tasks required of incoming students, such as reviewing the university honor code, health care requirements, and course registration procedures. To help ensure that students read the materials carefully, each web page had a timer that prevented students from advancing to the next page until a minimum amount of time had elapsed. The study materials were framed as information about the “university mindset,” and an opportunity to learn from older students’ experience with the transition to college. Study materials informed students that their essays could be shared, anonymously, to help future students cope with the transition to college.