WWC review of this study

Goal setting, academic reminders, and college success: A large-scale field experiment.

Dobronyi, C. R., Oreopoulos, P., & Petronijevic, U. (2019). Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 12(1), 38-66. . Retrieved from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1212132

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
    , grade

Reviewed: December 2021

No statistically significant positive
Meets WWC standards without reservations
Progressing in college outcomes—Indeterminate effects found
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
Significant? Improvement

College enrollment - 2nd year

Online goal-setting vs. Business as usual

1 Year

Full sample;
1,492 students





Evidence Tier rating based solely on this study. This intervention may achieve a higher tier when combined with the full body of evidence.

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.

  • Female: 49%
    Male: 51%
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The study was conducted at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year at the University of Toronto’s satellite campus in Mississauga, a commuter college in which about 80% of students live at home.

Study sample

The study sample consists of students taking first-year introductory economics at a commuter college in which about 80% of students live at home. About half of students 49% were female, 57% had a native language other than English, and the average age of students was between 18 and 19 years old.

Intervention Group

There were four related interventions: (1) goal setting + no-reminders condition, (2) goal setting + reminders condition, (3) goal setting + mindset message + no-reminders condition, and (4) goal setting + mindset message + reminders condition. The main intervention was a goal setting intervention in which students were asked to write about one thing that they could do better, things that they would like to learn in the near and distant future, and their current habits. Students were also asked to envision their future social life, future family life and career, and write about how they could maintain a balanced life. Students were then asked to identify and prioritize eight goals that could lead to their preferred futures, and identify steps that could lead to their goals and monitor these steps. The entire intervention was designed to take two hours. The second intervention, the goal-setting + mindset-message intervention, replaced the requirement for students to define eight future goals with material inspired by growth mindset theory, that aimed to discourage the belief that ability is innate and encourage them to recognize effort as an effective way to achieve success and to take on challenging learning experiences. Half of the students in each intervention group were also offered the opportunity to receive email and text reminders throughout the first year with academic tips and motivational supports (i.e., the reminders/no-reminders condition).

Comparison Group

Students in the comparison condition were given a personality test measuring the “big five” personality traits. This exercise took a similar amount of time and effort as the interventions.

Support for implementation

No information was provided about implementation support.


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