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What are Academic Mindsets?

Academic mindsets—individuals’ beliefs about learning that shape how they interpret difficulty—are crucial for success in college. Mindsets can be categorized into three groups of beliefs: growth mindset (the belief that one can improve through effort), purpose (the belief that an activity has value), and social belonging (the belief that one fits in with peers, colleagues, and teachers)[1]. Even within the first semester of college, students receive numerous messages from students, instructors, and the institution that shape perceptions of whether they belong in college and have the potential to succeed. Those perceptions, in turn, can affect students’ performance in their classes and decisions to remain enrolled.

These three academic mindsets are at the center of the work that the University System is investigating in its Momentum work.  There are other mindsets that clearly have an impact on student success – grit and perseverance, self-efficacy, self-advocacy, resilience – but growth mindset, purpose and value, and social belonging have the advantages of being malleable and impact that make them strong candidates for interventions.

Research suggests that learning mindsets are malleable [2] and learning mindset interventions are effective at reducing equity and opportunity gaps for students from traditionally underrepresented groups [3]. For instance, a value intervention in developmental math courses at a community college alleviated differences in pass rates for underrepresented minority students (see Figure 1). Learning mindset interventions can target either students directly, or indirectly by changing the learning context, and include:

Student-focused interventions are activities administered directly to students. Activities can help students find value in their coursework, feel like they fit in at college, or persist after failure.

Context-focused interventions are activities that involve changes in the educational context. Activities can be implemented at the classroom, program, school, or statewide level.


Hulleman, C. S., & Happel, L. (2018). Help students navigate life’s transitions with Mindset GPS. Behavioral Scientist; Quay, L., & Romero, C. (2015). What we know about learning mindsets from scientific research. Mindset Scholars Network.


Hulleman, C. S., Kosovich, J. J., Barron, K. E., & Daniel, D. B. (2017). Making connections: Replicating and extending the utility value intervention in the classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(3), 387-404.


Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: They’re not magic. Review of Educational Research81(2), 267-301.