The College Transition Collaborative

Changing Mindsets to Improve the Transition to College

Even with identical high school credentials, socially disadvantaged students drop out of college at higher rates and earn worse grades than students from advantaged backgrounds. Research suggests that this disparity is partly attributable to students' concerns about fitting in at college. Importantly, research also suggests that these concerns can be mitigated through brief, targeted mindset interventions. The College Transition Collaborative is a group of researchers and universities working together to create, evaluate, and disseminate these interventions.

Table of Contents

Improving the Transition to College
The Evidence
Next Research Steps
Research Team
Key Contacts


How Can We Improve the Transition to College for Disadvantaged Students?

To succeed in college students from disadvantaged backgrounds need access to high-quality secondary education and adequate financial aid. But they also need adaptive mindsets to understand challenges they will experience in college and how they can overcome these challenges.

A disadvantaged background can in some cases cause students to worry whether a "person like me" will belong or be able to succeed in college. When they encounter common difficulties in the critical first weeks and months of college—like feelings of loneliness or isolation or critical feedback from instructors—these difficulties can seem like proof that they don't belong or can't succeed on campus. That inference can become self-fulfilling.

Yet recent research shows that brief, well-tailored messages delivered at key transition moments can change students’ mindsets about college and improve their outcomes. These interventions help students anticipate challenges they will face in college and plan ways to overcome them. For instance:


The Evidence

Recent randomized controlled trials show that brief social-belonging and growth-mindset interventions can cause lasting improvements in the transition to college for disadvantaged students:

How do mindset interventions improve student success?

They help prepare students to develop social capital on campus—such as close friendships, involvement in student groups, and engagement with professors and the development of mentor relationships. These are essential resources for college student success. Worries about one's belonging or academic abilities—arising from previous social or economic disadvantage—can prevent students from pursuing these opportunities. Intervening to address these worries can help students take active steps to acquire social capital.


Next Research Steps:

Evaluating Pre-Matriculation Mindset Interventions In Preparation for Widespread Dissemination

Mindset interventions have a special promise for remedying inequality in higher education. These interventions can be delivered effectively before students come to campus as part of online pre-matriculation programming (e.g., alongside roommate preference forms, etc.). As such:

  1. They can help students form reasonable expectations for what college will be like and what challenges they will encounter, facilitating a better transition from day one.
  2. They are brief, low-cost, and highly scalable. During pre-matriculation, colleges and universities can reach the entire incoming class with online exercises at little cost per student.

Mindset interventions have demonstrated significant promise. However, it is essential to responsibly evaluate these interventions on a large scale before widespread dissemination.

Mindset interventions are not magic. They are powerful only when they directly speak to students’ worries about the transition to college and help them respond to challenges they face—when they ameliorate some of the psychological consequences of disadvantage relevant in a particular setting. As a consequence, mindset exercises may need to be adapted or customized for new settings to be most effective. In addition, their effectiveness may vary in different contexts and for different students.

To address the need for rigorous, large-scale evaluation, we are creating a partnership between researchers and colleges and universities to customize and evaluate these interventions in a large multi-site trial.

Analogous to a Stage 3 Clinical Trial except involving systematic customization of materials and delivery procedures for each site, this partnership will allow us to test standardized and optimized mindset interventions with the full incoming cohorts at partner schools. In doing so, we will be able to answer three critical questions:

  1. How effective are standardized, uncustomized mindset interventions overall in improving outcomes among disadvantaged students in the transition to college?
  2. Where (in what kinds of schools) and with whom (what kinds of students) are mindset interventions more and less effective?
  3. How can we customize mindset interventions for new colleges and universities? Are customized interventions more effective?

After this evaluation, interventions that prove effective will be made available to every college, university, and secondary school that wishes to use them.



Research Team 

Our team includes leading researchers who have developed mindset interventions.

Research Team
PI — Greg Walton, Assistant Professor, Stanford University
PI — David Yeager, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Austin
PI — Mary Murphy, Assistant Professor, Indiana University
PI — Christine Logel, Assistant Professor, Renison University College
Dave Paunesku, Executive Director, Stanford University PERTS
Chris Hulleman, Research Associate Professor, University of Virginia
Omid Fotuhi, Postdoctoral Scholar, Stanford University
Katie Boucher, Postdoctoral Scholar, Indiana University
Shannon Brady, Graduate Student, Stanford University
Stephanie Reeves, Graduate Student, University of Texas at Austin
Maithreyi Gopalan, Graduate Student, Indiana University
Evelyn Carter, Graduate Student, Indiana University
Amy Petermann, Research Coordinator, Stanford University
Dustin Thoman, Associate Professor, California State University - Long Beach
Lisel Murdock-Perriera, Graduate Student, Stanford University
Eric Smith, Graduate Student, Stanford University
Cayce Hook, Graduate Student, Stanford University
Katie Kroeper, Graduate Student, Indiana University
Jeff Kosovich, Graduate Student, University of Virginia
Matthew Wilmot, Graduate Student, University of Waterloo
Eric Gomez, Research Coordinator, Stanford University
Elise Ozier, Lab Manager, Indiana University
Madison Gilbertson, Research Assistant, Stanford University
Heidi Williams, Research Assistant, Indiana University

Geoff Cohen, Professor, Stanford University
Carol Dweck, Professor, Stanford University
Hazel Markus, Professor, Stanford University
Judy Harackiewicz, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Steven Spencer, Professor, University of Waterloo



To learn more about how your college or university can get involved, contact:

Omid Fotuhi,

We will respond within one week.