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Loretta Zost, Peru State College

Loretta Zost.jpgMost people would assume that academic probation would have a negative impact on college students’ sense of self. However, in a recently conducted qualitative study, some students who were formerly on academic probation reported it had a positive impact on their self-concept (Zost, 2009).  These same participants also tended to recall their academic performance as more positive than it actually was. One might correctly assume it has something to do with their perception. The concept of resiliency has gained increasing attention as researchers ponder why some individuals exceeded developmental expectations despite unfavorable conditions (Roosa, 2000).  Advisors may be able utilize this character trait to their advisees’ advantage in overcoming academic probation.


During the interview process, all participants came across as remarkably self-assured.  Excerpts from the interview transcripts revealed the positive way these individuals interpreted the probationary experience.  “Amy” stated, “I don’t think I would have had the passion that I have now. I think that the academic probation woke me up.” Perhaps the one who attributed the most personal gains to the experience was “Derek.” According to him, he “grew from the experience,” learned “how to adapt,” “matured a lot,” and gained “discipline.” “Marc” described the impact like this: “I feel more involved and active and even important, you know, within my department.” For “Shane,” it “just made me realize I’m capable of doing better and just putting forth more effort and seeing the results.”

Study participants also tended to view themselves as works in progress.  All reported growth as a result of dealing with difficult situations.  They reportedly gained maturity, self-awareness, a renewed sense of purpose, and often a new career direction. It seems, for these participants, that resiliency was not something they were born with. It was something they developed over time as a by-product of facing challenges and overcoming them.

Academic Perspective

As stated earlier, during the interviews all participants came across as self-assured. In an effort to determine the origins of the students’ academic difficulties, the researcher turned to their transcripts. Surprisingly, all expressed a more positive view of their educational experience than their grades would indicate. Consider the following examples.

“Amy” recalled her high school grades as “probably above average” and “mostly As, some Bs up until my senior year.” In actuality, she had a total of 16 As, 27 Bs, three Cs, one D, and six Ls (withdrawal for lack of attendance).

“Derek” described his high school grades in the following manner. “I wasn’t the smartest, but I guess I wasn’t the dumbest either. I didn’t have no, you know, all As or all Bs, but I maintained Cs.” He described his grades as average. In actuality his GPA was close to what he remembered. It was 1.90, but his transcripts contained 19 Ds and three Fs.

“Jared” recalled his grades during his first semester of college as being two Ds and a C. Actually; he had two Bs, a W, and a F. His second semester he thought he had a B, two Ds and a F. Instead he had two Ds and 2 Ws.

“Marc” admitted that he didn’t remember much about his senior year, but he believed his GPA was around 3.5 or 3.6.  His high school transcripts revealed that it was 2.24.

Discrepancy Between Perception and Performance

Why did such a discrepancy exist between the participants’ stated and actual academic achievement? Although this was not evident in the initial review of literature, the researcher found confirmation of this phenomenon in a book about human behavior in which Bandura contributed a section about self-efficacy.  Bandura revealed that “When people err in their self-appraisal they tend to overestimate their capabilities. This is a benefit rather than a cognitive failing to be eradicated” (1994, p. 6).

To understand why the participants remember their achievements as much better than they actually were it was necessary to turn again to Bandura. He stated, “Realists may adapt well to existing realities. But those with a tenacious self-efficacy are likely to change those realities” (Bandura, 1994, p. 7). Based on this explanation, it appears the participants believed that they were accurately describing their educational achievements. This reconstruction of reality apparently helped them maintain a belief in their ability to succeed.

Advisor Intervention

While it appears to be beneficial for students to err on the positive side when recalling academic achievement and ability, they may overestimate their ability to the point where their problems engulf them. Difficulties need to be brought to the advisees’ attention when they reach this critical point. This can require some persistence on the part of the advisor. Students in the study tended to ignore early warning notices. Regular “reality checks” will help keep advisees focused on being successful.

Additionally, advisors may find it difficult to work with advisees who perceive their abilities as being greater than they are in reality. That is why it is important for probationary students to be made aware of the gap between their perception and reality. This “dose of reality” will let students know that they need to make changes in order to be successful.


There were many factors that contributed to the study participants’ earning academic probation. The way they dealt with the crisis or obstacle allowed each of the participants to grow from the experience, thereby building resilience. As they continued to strive toward their goals the participants reframed their reality in a way that made sense to them. It provided them with an outlook that was bold in the face of adversity. Their increased self-awareness and ability to effect change on their environment gave them a sense of power.

As stated in the movie The Substitute, “Power perceived is power achieved” (Cutler-Rubenstin, Bakalar, Eisenman, Steele, and Mandel, 1996). This is especially true when one is working with advisees trying to overcome academic probation.  Advisors play a key role in helping advisees with high self-efficacy build resilience and harness their potential for success.

Loretta Zost
Assistant Professor/Faculty Advisor
School of Education
Peru State College
[email protected] 

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior. (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic press, 1998). Retrieved from http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/BanEncy.html

Cutler-Rubenstin, D., Bakalar II, S., Eisenman, M., Steele II, S., and Mandel, R. (1996). The Substitute. Motion Picture. United States: LIVE Entertainment, Inc., Dinamo/H2 Productions.

Roosa, M. W. (2000). Some thoughts about resilience versus positive development, main effects versus interactions, and the values of resilience. Child Development, 71(3), 567-569. Retrieved from the EBSCO Database.

Zost, L. A. (2009). Academic probation: A detour on the road to college success. (Doctoral dissertation), Available from ProQuest/UMI. (10889).



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