Build Academic Confidence Through Pre-College Programs

Build Academic Confidence Through Pre-College Programs

How disparity in others’ expectations creates uneven starting point

Read this brief to learn how to help remove students’ expectations and doubts and build confidence through pre-college programs.

Remove student doubts about their academic abilities

In many cases, the gap between aspiration and outcomes for historically underrepresented students can be attributed to a lack of confidence or a lack of academic self-efficacy.

Research has documented the stress that all students face on the path to college. However, that stress has a more significant impact on the confidence of underrepresented students.

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Facilitate Student-Centered Course Redesign Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.


Of first-gen parents
expect their child will
attain a BA or higher
Of first-gen parents expect their child will attain a BA or higher

The findings of these studies about teacher, parent, and student expectations suggest that students ultimately develop college aspirations in very different environments. For many continuing generation, upper-class, majority students, college attendance is almost a forgone conclusion.” Low-income, firstgeneration, and underrepresented students, on the other hand, confront persistent doubt and skepticism that they will attend college or earn a degree.

Identify less visible contributors to stop-out

A common way to ease the transition to college and ensure students are academically and emotionally prepared is through bridge programs, boot camps, and orientation activities. While these pre-college programs can have a positive impact on student success they do come with certain limitations.

Intensive programming that focuses on specific student populations effectively support targeted students, but their size limit their scalability and reach. Conversely, large-scale orientation programs may touch every student on campus, but they do not provide the necessary transition support.

Rethink bridge programs

“is designed for students from our partner high school and students who self-identify as students of color or new American […] focuses on mentoring, community building, grit and identity development…”

Representative summer bridge programming language
Small Private University

Summer “bridge” programs targeting specific student subpopulations are far from novel—many, if not most, institutions have put these programs in place, often for first-generation students, students of color, or students who lag behind their peers in GPA or test scores. However, as research has shown, summer bridge programs often do not support timely completion, and despite their admirable intent, may further exacerbate existing student disparities.

Summer bridge programs suffer from two major pitfalls. The first is that these programs are usually comprised of non credit-bearing instruction, whether remedial courses or brief study skills workshops lasting one to three days. As a result, summer bridge programming does not directly impact students’ progress towards their degrees.

Create opportunities for early academic wins


Of entering class of 2018 participated in NevadaFIT
Of entering class of 2018 participated in NevadaFIT

Program organizers believe that the success of the program doesn’t lie in an improvement in content knowledge but in creating an opportunity for students to learn how to “do” college early. By completing college-level coursework, receiving faculty feedback on their performance, and learning about available academic and social resources students are better prepared to begin their college career.

NevadaFIT has expanded from a small program in the biology department in 2014 to serving almost 1,700 new students each year. Approximately 37% of participants are first-generation students, 46% are underrepresented minority students, and 30% receive Pell grants. Nearly all these student groups have benefited, though demographic disparities remain in fall-to-spring persistence. For example, first-generation participants still persist at the lowest rates, but their persistence has improved since the program began.

Boost credit accumulation and confidence with summer academy

The typical borderline-admitted student begins the first day of classes with a credit deficit, often requiring non-credit-bearing remedial courses before they can even begin for-credit coursework. In contrast, Georgia State’s “Success Academy” (SA) courses are not remedial, allowing students to immediately begin accruing meaningful credit when they return to campus in the fall.

Critical components of an impactful pre-college student success program

Pre-term academic experience is available to all students to achieve scale and minimize stereotype threat activation

For-credit, pass/fail boot camp course allows students to complete college-level assignments with faculty feedback

For targeted programs, invitation emphasizes exclusivity of program, similar to those for honors students or athletes

Student cohorts have access to peer academic and social mentoring which normalizes help seeking behavior

Pre-term academic experience is operated by individual colleges to ensure it is relevant to students’ academic and career goals

Programs can offer courses like English which apply to all majors. This ensures that no credits are lost if students switch majors

While most institutions have a version of an early start program, there are some key elements of NevadaFIT and Summer Success Academy that lend itself to success. In the case of NevadaIT, since it is open to all students it does not single out vulnerable student populations and reaches students who otherwise may not have sought out additional support.

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