Examining the Links Between Achievement-Related Mindset and Psychological Well-Being in a National Sample of First-Generation College Students

Cristina L Nardini, Fordham University


First-generation college students (FGCS) represent about one-third of the overall college student population, but their degree completion occurs at half the rate of continuing generation students (e.g., Institute of Education Science, 2018). Moreover, FGCS report higher exposure to significant stressors like discrimination (Pascarella et al., 2004) and caregiver burden (Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2013c), as well as endorse significantly higher levels of psychological difficulties (e.g., Stableton & Soria, 2013), compared to continuing-generation students, which can negatively impact FGCS’ academic engagement and success.Students’ beliefs about the ultimate goals of learning (i.e., achievement-related mindset) could be one key determinant of students’ emotional and behavioral responses to stress, and can influence motivations for academic achievement (e.g., Dweck, 2013). Students with a mastery-oriented mindset have a tendency to focus on mastering a skill (i.e., improving one’s ability for themselves; seeking new challenges in order to improve one’s skills), which has been positively associated with greater resilience and academic performance such as GPA (e.g., Yeager et al., 2019). However, mastery orientation has not yet been examined thoroughly with respect to psychological functioning and academic engagement (rather than performance) among FGCS.This project examined the potentially protective effects of mastery orientation on psychosocial and academic outcomes in the context of unique stressors characteristic of FGCS, using a nationally-representative sample of nearly 3,000 FGCS. Results showed that endorsing astronger mastery orientation was associated with fewer anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as greater academic engagement (interaction with professors and other academic personnel; utilization of academic support services; time allocated towards classes, studying, and homework) among FGCS. Moreover, FGCS-related stressors (e.g., experiences of discrimination; caregiver and work burden; failing at least one course) were associated with poorer psychological health and largely lower academic engagement. Further, mastery orientation did not buffer the negative effects of FGCS-related stressors on anxiety and depressive symptoms. However, mastery orientation did moderate the relationship between multiple stressors and academic engagement outcomes, despite some of these interactions appearing opposite to the expected effect. This study illustrates the role of mastery orientation in psychological risk versus resilience as well as academic engagement for underrepresented students as they navigate unique cultural and structural stressors of higher education.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Higher education|Educational psychology

Recommended Citation

Nardini, Cristina L, "Examining the Links Between Achievement-Related Mindset and Psychological Well-Being in a National Sample of First-Generation College Students" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30574920.