Four Things to Know About Successful First-year Students

July 18th 2017

Previously, our Director of Analytics & Research wrote about five key take-aways from examining academic struggles of first-year college students. In this blog, we’ve decided to focus on our successful first-year students to see what patterns we could find.

To pull this off, Skyfactor’s Analytics and Research team analyzed Mapworks data from the 2014 fall transition survey. Specifically, we studied first-year college students who had a fall-term GPA of at least 3.00. In many cases, we saw traits that would be expected of students who have strong GPAs. However, we also discovered some interesting relationships that extend beyond academics.

1. Successful first-year students exhibit robust academic behaviors.

This first one is a no-brainer. For any of us who have taught, mentored, or advised first-year students, we see this story unfold regularly. Earning high grades means mastering basic academic behaviors. For students who earned a GPA of at least a 3.00, 98% reported always attending class, 96% reported turning in their assigned homework, and 81% reported always taking notes in class. For sports fans, you know that success in a sport often centers on mastering the fundamentals, and this is no different for success in college courses.

2. Successful students are resilient.

For successful first-year students, . Academic resiliency, or grit in an academic setting, centers on concepts such as focus, effort, and recovery. Seven out of ten first-year students with a fall-term GPA of at least 3.00 said they do everything they can to meet the academic goals they set each semester, and put forth extra effort when they know a course is going to be difficult. In comparison, only around 50% of students with a fall-term GPA below a 3.00 reported doing the same. And, if they get a poor grade in a course, 83% of the successful students report working harder, compared to 71% of those with a GPA under 3.00. So, there is a clear relationship between performance and resiliency.

Related post: “When it Comes to Student Success, Grit Matters,” by Dr. Sherry Woosley

3. Successful students build strong connections.

While the first few points I’ve discussed so far hit on areas that tie in directly to the classroom experience—attendance, homework, and resiliency—one area we saw that had a strong correlation to GPA was related to the connections first-year students build. First-year students who are satisfied with their social lives, meet people they share common interest with, and make connections with faculty in their major or program are far more likely to have a high first-term GPA than students who do not. So, regardless of the type of connection, building connections and a strong network in general is connected to academic success.

But, these are characteristics of students with GPAs above a 3.00, or roughly a ‘B’ average or higher. What if we look at just those first-year students who really knock it out of the park? What stands out for this group of students?

4. Non-cognitives are particularly important for high-performing students

Non-cognitive attributes—including resiliency and self-efficacy—are especially important for students who earn high GPAs. For students earning at least a 3.50 GPA in their first term, the academic resiliency factor in the Mapworks survey had the highest correlation to fall-term GPA. For instance, while 83% of students with a fall GPA of at least a 3.00 reported working harder when they earned a poor grade in a course, the percent rose to 88% for the students with at least a 3.50 GPA. So, the confidence to do well in courses, put for extra effort when necessary, and bounce back when they are challenged is a key trait of highly successful first-year students.

Want to find out what else we learned? Sign up for our August 23rd webinar on first-year college students, A Second Look at First-Year Transitions: What Matters When, or check out some of our existing content on topics related to first-year students.