More Than Getting to the Door: Non-Academic Supports to Ensure Students Graduate from College (Part 4—Academic Self-Efficacy)

by Stephanie Suarez
February 8, 2021

Photo of student studying

Every fall semester, first-time college students across the country embark on an academic journey full of promise. Unfortunately, some students do not make it to the finish line because they have trouble adjusting to the academic demands of college. Academic self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s ability to do well on academic tasks, is an aspect of social-emotional learning which plays an important role in first-year college students’ success and adjustment.1

Students with low academic self-efficacy levels lack confidence in their ability to perform well academically. These students have lower academic performance than students with higher levels of academic self-efficacy who had similar high school grade point averages.2 Lower academic performance can hinder a student’s ability to keep up with academic expectations in college, which can ultimately lead to academic probation and/or dropping out of college. Strengthening students’ self-efficacy can result in higher academic achievement and greater likelihood of college degree completion.

Social-Emotional Support Strategies

Colleges and college advisors can use a variety of strategies to foster academic self-efficacy and keep students engaged and on their path to degree completion. Early interventions, as shown here, are critical to ensure that students receive the support they need before it is too late.

  • Help students set milestones: Create mastery experiences for students by teaching them to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces.3 This can be achieved by setting milestones, celebrating incremental success, or beginning with something simple first. For example, you can support students with low-academic self-efficacy by coaching them to list all steps required to complete a research report and set timelines for completing each step. This will make the task seem more manageable and less overwhelming for the student.
  • Provide models for academic success: Peers can demonstrate how to navigate challenges and help other students believe they can do the same.4 For example, near-peer mentorship programs in university settings can lead to high persistence rates and strong academic performance.5 Pair struggling students with mentors who have similar characteristics and have overcome similar challenges. Mentorship programs focused on career pathways or academic pursuits, for example, allow students to view peers like them as successful models, helping them to believe that they can also be successful in academic pursuits.
  • Establish learning communities: Learning communities help promote shared and connected learning among students, which can help decrease feelings of academic isolation.6 These programs can be a part of a structured first-year program in college campuses and help foster a sense of community around an academic focus. Colleges can establish learning communities through four common approaches: paired or clustered courses, cohorts in large courses, team-taught program, or residence-based programs.7 Click here to learn how Kingsborough Community College, a diverse community college in Brooklyn, New York, structured learning communities on their campus.

Early outreach is critical to student success. Many students might assume they are the only ones experiencing academic challenges or might not even be aware that support services on their campuses exist to address these common challenges. The suggested strategies can be implemented by counselors, advisors, and special programs seeking to improve student retention.

This is the final blog post in the More Than Getting to the Door: Non-Academic Supports to Ensure Students Graduate from College blog series. Read parts 1 through 3:


1 Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior, Vol. 4, pp. 71-81. Academic Press. Reprinted in H. Friedman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of mental health. Academic Press, 1998.
2Chemers, M. M., Hu, L-t., & Garcia, B. F. (2001). Academic self-efficacy and first-year college student performance and adjustment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(1), 55–64.
3Margolis, H., & McCabe, P.P. (2006). Improving self-efficacy and motivation: What to do, what to say. Intervention in School and Clinic, 41(4), 218–227.
4Schunk, D. H. (2003). Self-efficacy for reading and writing: Influence of modelling, goalsetting, and self-evaluation. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 19, 159–72.
5Zaniewski, A. M., & Reinholz, D. (2016). Increasing STEM success: A near-peer mentoring program in the physical sciences. IJ STEM Ed 3, 14 (2016).
6Schunk, D. H. (2003). Self-efficacy for reading and writing: Influence of modelling, goalsetting, and self-evaluation. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 19, 159–72.
7Bloom, D., & Sommo, C. (2005). Building learning communities: Early results from the Opening Doors demonstration at Kingsborough Community College. MDRC.

Topics: Access and equity Community colleges First-generation college students Low income Opportunity youth Transition to postsecondary Underrepresented Minorities

Tags: Social emotional learning