Self Knowledge Leads to College Success

March 24, 2014 

Article contributed by: Gina Zappariello

emotional intelligence mind mapIf you are the parent of a college-bound high school student, you may be concerned about whether your child will make it all the way through college to graduation. You may also wonder whether the significant investment in college will be worth it, given that college graduates aren’t guaranteed success in today’s rapidly changing job market.

While one’s academic background is probably the best indicator of academic success in college, to thrive in college today students will need more than just good grades. Students are entering a new world when they go to college.

Here are just a few of the significant life changes college freshmen will experience:

  • Social Independence The likelihood of all your child’s friends attending the same college as him is slim, so he will have to build a new group of social contacts.
  • Stress The academic requirements in college are more rigorous than in high school, even for students who have taken AP courses. Strong time-management skills and motivation are needed.
  • Impulse Control For students living away from home for the first time, there can be many temptations. Parents will not be there to catch them if they fall, or warn them about potential dangers.

A study conducted at Harvard University in 2011 called Pathways to Prosperity showed that just 56% of students completed a four-year degree within six years. Only 29% of students who started a two-year degree program completed it within three years.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in its 2011 report, Education at a Glance, less than 60% of U.S. students completed college. This placed the United States next to last among the 18 countries studied.

Former UCLA Administrator Chip Anderson noted that “more students leave college because of disillusionment, discouragement or reduced motivation than because of lack of ability or dismissal by school administration.”

How does an 18-year-old learn to be independent, self-sufficient, and responsible? Can he or she learn these skills before heading off to college?

Yes, it is possible. Unlike cognitive intelligence (IQ), emotional intelligence (EI) can be developed and improved at any age. Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, defined emotional intelligence as the “capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and our relationships.” There are 15 emotional and social competencies associated with emotional intelligence:

  • Self-regard
  • Self-actualization
  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Emotional expression
  • Assertiveness
  • Independence
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Empathy
  • Social responsibility
  • Problem solving
  • Reality testing
  • Impulse control
  • Flexibility
  • Stress tolerance
  • Optimism

These competencies translate into skills students will need to thrive in college and beyond, such as the ability to develop a social support network, adjust to new academic expectations, and acquire the intrinsic motivation to accomplish personal and career goals.

Emotional intelligence includes such skills as the ability to express emotions in a constructive way, form successful relationships, stand up for ourselves, set and achieve goals, and handle stress.

There have been numerous studies demonstrating the importance of emotional intelligence in students who successfully complete college. In a 2009 study of 783 students done by Larry Sparkman at the University of Southern Mississippi, the best predictors of college completion (or graduation) were the emotional intelligence skills of empathy, social responsibility, flexibility, and impulse control.

Sparkman’s study also suggested that measures of self-actualization, social responsibility, and happiness best predict cumulative GPA. Interestingly, very high scores in independence and interpersonal relationships tended to result in lower GPAs. Sparkman reasoned that students who are unwilling to seek help from tutors, counselors, or professors, and who spend too much time socializing with friends, may be at risk of getting lower grades.

Success in college, and in our personal and professional lives, depends on a host of abilities, not all of which are academic. It is important to strengthen and maintain our “emotional” skills as well.

Gina Zappariello, MS, is a professional coach specializing in the development of emotional intelligence skills in college-bound and current college students. Gina’s background includes twelve years as a high school teacher, and over ten years in management positions with national tutoring companies. She has recently developed a unique program for students called ADAPT: The 5-Step System To Help You Gain The Skills You Need To Thrive in College And Life. The ADAPT program combines assessment, coaching, and an online program to help students identify and strengthen the EI skills they need to carry them successfully through college and into the workplace.

Photo credit: harmonicagoldfish


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