Academic Advising Resources


Academic Self-Efficacy: The Cornerstone of Freshmen Success

Norma C. Cooper

Graduating high school seniors from around the world excitedly apply to get accepted at the college or university of their choice. However, many of them have not really comprehended fully the journey and transition that they are about to embark upon. On the brink of moving into college, many of these first semester freshmen are anticipating the start of a dream for a great career and future, although, not yet totally aware of the expectations and demands that come along with becoming a first year college student. Laanan (2006) states, “Understanding students in transition is not an easy task, it requires that we have understanding of what students bring to the college experience; that is, prior academic preparation or training, life experiences, and cultural experiences” (p.2). So, upon arrival on campus their lack of knowledge and/or shortcomings causes them to look to those in leadership roles, administration, faculty, staff and advisors for behaviors, habits, demeanor and character that are modeled. Personnel and institutional resources must be in place to assist all cohorts of incoming freshmen to adjust to situations that may be overwhelming. During this transition academic self-efficacy will be the driving force that becomes the cornerstone of freshmen success.

How institutions operate to create successful outcomes has a definite and observable impact on student academic self-efficacy and ultimately upon retention. As Kuhn, Gordon, and Weber (2006) observed, “Advisors are the institutional frontline for such support” (p.26). They are in strategic positions to initiate assessments of student academic self-efficacy levels and academic limitations early on in the students’ progression into the learning community. Given the essential nature of a smooth transitioning to college life, many campuses look to CLEI (College Learning Effectiveness Inventory), Focus2, Myers-Briggs, or an institution authored instrument for empowering first semester freshmen. The utilization of these tools within an institutional testing program aids in assessing predictors that influence student possibilities for reaching the level of academic self-efficacy that is deemed pivotal to obtaining success during his or her educational journey.

Self-efficacy and Assessment

Academic self-efficacy refers to a person’s belief about his or her capabilities on a specific task (Bandura, 1997). Introducing instruments designed to measure individual attitudes, expression of confidence in academic ability, awareness of effort toward study and/or expectations of success in college attainment, will not only impact student learning success outcomes; but the university as a whole, via its effect upon retention, matriculation in a timely manner, and gainful employment of its students after graduation. Assessment tools, when properly utilized, have been proven through studies to increase GPA, overall life satisfaction, and persistence in first semester freshmen. These are areas that first year freshmen are highly vulnerable in due to their transitioning from high school into a college environment. Being able to ascertain proficiency in areas that need extra counseling or attention is invaluable.

Despite steadily rising enrollment rates in U.S. postsecondary institutions, weak academic performance and high dropout rates remain persistent problems among undergraduates (Lloyd, Tienda, and Zajacova, 2001; Tinto, 1994). For students, dropping out before earning a degree represents untapped human potential and a low return on their investment in college (Card and Krueger, 1992; Jaeger and Page, 1996). Poor academic performance is often indicative of difficulties in adjusting to college and makes dropping out more likely (Gillock and Reyes, 1999; Murtaugh, Burns, and Schuster, 1999). This research demonstrates and corroborates the need for institutions of higher education to consider assessment instruments as predictors with first semester freshmen to identify early-on their strengths and weaknesses as they relate to academic self-efficacy and ultimately their success.

Elements of Assessment

As first -time freshman the driving force of testing instruments is to provide immediate feedback to the student by showing a pattern of their strengths and weaknesses as it relates to their transition into the college setting. The data revealed assist with strategies for advising and counseling the student making it a tool for discussion of goals, selection of interventions, referrals to relevant student services, and a measurement of progress and involvement in the transitioning process.

         Predictors of academic self-efficacy consists of elements that reflect the expression of confidence in academic ability, awareness of effort toward study, and expectations of success in college attainment. Assessments may shed light on career aptitude that could otherwise have been missed. Organizing these responses by the student into categories has been shown to contribute to academic success. This validates the importance of institutions of higher education considering integrating a tool of assessment for first- time freshman. 

According to (Ferrari and Parker, 1992; Lindley and Borgen, 2002) academic self-efficacy has consistently been shown to predict grades and persistence in college. Assessment evaluates this and opens discussions between advisors and the students who have been tested at the beginning of their first semester. Data assembled by the test plays an intricate role in predicting student accountability, desire to learn and persistence to create mastery. Retesting a second time frequently reveal remarkable quantified growth that has taken place in the life of transitioning freshmen. There is much to gain from using a profiling instrument  as the cornerstone to assessing and advising first- time freshmen to ensure positive direction to success and self –efficacy in a new learning environment.

Academic Advisement

Academic advisors are thought to be the first persons students look for upon arriving on campus. Therefore, academic advisors need to be aware of the countless dynamics that affect student success, particularly at the crucial time of entering college, which can be an overwhelming experience as students transition into new demands. Academic advising is intended to help students be successful in college and prepare for their next phase in life (National Academic Advising Association, 2003). Consequently, academic advisors alongside the academic dean and testing center are often the needed catalyst to jump start these incoming freshmen by playing a motivating, key role in getting assessment instruments implemented. They create the perfect collaboration as a strong task force to work with the freshmen on career development and the pursuit of relevant majors. 

Habley (1994) stated that "academic advising is the only structured activity on the campus in which all students have the opportunity for on-going, one-to-one interaction with a concerned representative of the institution" (p. 10). Tinto (2004) maintains that campuses support the development of resilient students and thus enhance retention and graduation when they provide effective academic advising. He sees advising as a major component of the academic, social, and personal support programs necessary to help students meet their learning needs.

Advisors should be reliable examples of accountability and of lifelong learning to aid and inspire first semester freshmen on their path to strong feelings of academic self-efficacy and career development success. Once the students and advisors are acquainted and developing a relationship, discussions can take place about assessment results and student’s goals and objectives; and a regimen may be designed uniquely for him or her to navigate, on his or her personal road to success. Another positive aspect of assessment instruments is to ensure that the student, with the advisors assistance, focuses on the areas of weakness indicated by the profile results.

Many times when students find themselves alone at college during the transition phase from high school they explore emerging reactions or alliances that help them to identify who they truly are or want to become. Academic advising is the very core of successful institutional efforts to educate and retain students. For this reason, academic advising "... should be viewed as the 'hub of the wheel' and not just one of the various isolated services provided for students... academic advisors offer students the personal connection to the institution that the research indicated is vital to student retention and student success" (Nutt, 2003). 


Students and their success should be of paramount concern for academic institutions. Higher education has a charge to allocate some form of assessment tool as part of the necessary resources to graduate successful students, beginning with first-time freshmen transition. When this charge is fulfilled to the best of the institution’s capabilities with trained professionals and targeted instruments, this will provide students the tools they need to build cornerstones of academic self-efficacy for themselves on college and university campuses.

Authored by: 

Norma C. Cooper, Student Success Coach
College of Health Sciences College of Undergraduate Studies/Faculty,
Bethune-Cookman University


Bandura, A. (1997).  Self-Efficacy: The exercise of control (1st ed.). New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Card, D., and Krueger, A. B. (1992). Does school quality matter? Returns to education and the characteristics of public schools in the United States. Journal of Political Economy 100(1): 1-40.

Ferrari. R., and Parker, J. T. (1992). High school achievement, self-efficacy and locus of control as predictors of freshmen academic performance. Psychology Reports 71(2): 515-518.

Gillock, K. L., and Reyes, O. (1999).  Stress, support, and academic performance of urban, low income, Mexican-American adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 28(2) 259-282.

Habley, W. R. (1994). Key Concepts in Academic Advising. In Summer Institute on Academic Advising Session Guide (p.10).  Available from the National Academic Advising Association, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS.


Kuhn, T., Gordon, V. N., & Webber, J. (2006). The advising and counseling continuum: Triggers for referral. NACADA Journal, 26 (1), 24-31.

Laanan, F. S. (2006). Editor’s note: Understanding students in transition: trends and issues. New Directions for Student Services, 114, 1-6.

Linley, L. D., and Borgen, F. H. (2002). Generalized self-efficacy, Holland theme self-efficacy, and academic performance. Journal of Career Assessment 10(3): 301-314.

Lloyd, K. M., Tienda, M., and Zajacova, A. (2001). Trends in educational achievement of minority students since Brown v. Board of Education. In: Snow, C. (eds.) Achieving High Educational Standards for All: Conference Summary, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, pp. 147-182.

Murtaugh, P. A., Burns, L. D. and Schuster, J. (1999). Predicting the retention of university students. Research in Higher Education 40(3): 355-371.

National Academic Advising Association. (2003). The definition of academic advising. Retrieved from /Clearinghouse/View-Articles/The definition-of academic-advising.aspx

Nutt, Charlie L. (2003). Academic advising and student retention and persistence from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site 

Tinto, V. (1994). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition, (2nd ed.) University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Tinto, V. (July 2004). Student retention and graduation: Facing the truth, living with the consequences. The Pell Institute

Cite this resource using APA style as:

Nelson, D.B. and Cooper N.C. (2014). Academic self-efficacy: The cornerstone of freshmen success. Retrieved from the NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web Site:

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