Social Psychology of Education 4: 189–211, 2000. © 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. 189 College goals: Do self-determined and carefully considered goals predict intrinsic motivation, academic performance, and adjustment during the first semester? REGINA CONTI Department of Psychology, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY 13346, U.S.A. e-mail: [email protected] Abstract. The present study investigated whether choosing autonomous goals for pursuing a college education and reflecting on those goals promotes intrinsic motivation toward coursework, higher grades and improved adjustment to college over time. Incoming first-year college students responded to the College Goals Questionnaire before starting classes, and to the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire and the Work Preference Inventory during their first semester. Results indicated that the degree to which students who reflected on their goals had high levels of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The autonomy of students’ goals predicted grade point average, high intrinsic motivation, low extrinsic motivation, and improvement in social and emotional adjustment over time. These findings contribute to the literature on personal goals by establishing the importance of having wellthought- through and autonomous goals during the transition to college. 1. Introduction Personal goals have the potential to give meaning and coherence to an individual’s motivational experience (Little, 1983; Emmons, 1989, 1996; Klinger, 1996). By choosing autonomous goals that will develop important interests and abilities, and by giving careful thought to the best means to pursue these goals, people can direct their lives in a manner that promotes mental health and well-being (Gollwitzer, 1996; Sheldon & Elliot, 1997; Taylor et al., 1998). However, not all personal goals emanate from one’s sense of self in the sense that they grow from genuine interests and abilities. Instead, goals can have their roots in expectations imposed by others. Likewise, not all individuals devote thought to choosing their goals. Without a personal goal system that is carefully thought-through and connected with one’s sense of self, individuals will have difficulty focusing their efforts and meeting their basic psychological needs (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999). While potentially important at any stage of life, a personal goal system that promotes autonomy and reflection is crucial during major life transitions. For many young adults, one such transition occurs during their first semester of college (Cantor et al., 1987; Cantor & Langston, 1989). The present study investigated whether students’ goals for attending a four-year residential college influenced their experiences during their first 190 REGINA CONTI semester. Specifically, students who chose more autonomous goals and students who devoted more thought to their goals were expected to experience a more successful transition. To capture fully the first-semester student experience, three somewhat different types of dependent variables were examined: motivational orientation, adjustment and academic performance. The entering students at residential colleges have much to look forward to: an expanded array of academic offerings, new social opportunities, an assortment of extra-curricular activities, and for many, their first independent living experience (Astin, 1993, 1999). With such a wide range of new challenges to pursue, a coherent personal goal system will be especially important for directing the entering student’s energies. In order to feel satisfied with college life, students need to adjust well to the personal and social changes confronting them while maintaining their motivation for their academic work (Astin, 1993; Baker & Siryk, 1984). The immediacy of independent living goals and the enjoyment associated with social and extracurricular goals may heighten their appeal relative to academic goals. Yet, academic success is of central importance to college students (Cantor & Langston, 1989). An ability to sustain one’s motivation toward academic efforts is, thus, critical. Research on motivational orientation has suggested two types of motivation that underlie college students’ academic efforts. The interest value and challenge inherent in their academic work motivates students who are intrinsically motivated. In contrast, students who respond to extrinsic forces are motivated by factors that are separate from the work itself, such as earning high grades or satisfying parental expectations. Intrinsic motivation promotes creativity (Amabile, 1983, 1996; Amabile et al., 1994), concept attainment (Grolnick & Ryan, 1987), and long-term retention of course material (Conti, Amabile, & Pollak, 1995). When students are intrinsically motivated they are more curious, more persistent, and show a preference for more novel and difficult tasks (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1987) than when they are extrinsically motivated. While extrinsic motivation may encourage academic effort at exam time, the enduring and genuine interest that come with intrinsic motivation more consistently sustain a student’s energy toward academic work (Gottfried, 1985, 1990). These orientations may begin to develop during elementary and high school, but research has identified relatively enduring motivational orientations only in college students (Vallerand et al., 1993; Amabile et al., 1994). The less structured, more stimulating, and demanding college environment has the potential to spark a students’ previoulsy dormant intrinsic motivation or to heighten perceived pressure and lead to greater extrinsic motivation. Thus, the first semester is likely to be quite important in determining a students’ motivational orientation toward college-level academic work. The present study examines whether students’ goals for their college experience influence the degree of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation they display toward their college work. In addition to having a genuine interest in academic learning, students also need to feel satisfied and content with college life in order to take full advantage of their COLLEGE GOALS 191 college years. College adjustment has been conceptualized as including academic, social, and emotional adjustment (Baker & Siryk, 1984). Students’ opinions of the quality of education they are receiving and their degree of satisfaction with their academic performance contribute to academic adjustment. While academic adjustment is related to intrinsic motivation, in that a genuine interest in course material will facilitate academic involvement and success, academic adjustment is a more direct indicator of how well students’ courses are matched with their interests and abilities. Social and emotional adjustment reflect the degree to which campus life, more generally, is meeting students’ individual needs. Students’ reactions to the social opportunities on campus and their level of success in forming friendships contribute to social adjustment. Students’ experiences of homesickness and reactions to stress may undermine emotional adjustment. Successful adjustment in each of these areas is crucial to students’ overall success and satisfaction with college life. A well-developed set of goals may facilitate adjustment in all areas to the degree that goals promote involvement. Astin’s (1993, 1999) seminal work on college adjustment demonstrates that active involvement in all areas of college life is associated with emotional well-being and academic and social success. While each of these areas of adjustment, in part, reflects the degree to which students have selected a university that is right for them, over time, students who are best able to confront the transition to college should also become flexible and resourceful in finding a social niche, emotional support, and opportunities to develop their talents. For this reason, it is important to examine changes in each area of adjustment from the beginning to the end of the first semester. In contrast to an intrinsic or extrinsic motivational orientation toward college coursework, which becomes relatively enduring once it has been established (Amabile et al., 1994), adjustment can fluctuate (Baker & Siryk, 1984; Astin, 1993). Thus, a successful transition during the first semester depends not on students’ initial level of satisfaction with what the university has to offer but with an improvement in their satisfaction over time. To facilitate the intrinsic motivation and adjustment of new students, college personnel strive to provide appealing course offerings, inspiring instructors, exciting social and extracurricular activities, comfortable living arrangements, and emotional support for students (Astin, 1993). While prospective students (often along with their parents) work hard to learn about college offerings and prepare competitive applications, few explicitly think about preparing themselves motivationally for the college experience. A review of the self-regulation literature suggests that formulating goals, especially goals that connect with and well-represent one’s sense of self, can maximize a new student’s intrinsic motivation and promote successful adjustment over time (Cantor et al., 1987; Cantor & Langston, 1989; Sheldon & Kasser, 1995; Sheldon & Elliot, 1997, 1999). The goal setting literature has established that, on a wide range of tasks, having a goal leads to better performance than not having a goal (Locke et al., 1981; Latham & Locke, 1991; Cochran & Tesser, 1996). Much research on goal setting has been 192 REGINA CONTI limited to short laboratory tasks (see Locke & Latham, 1991, for a review), but more recently research has focused on long-term, personally meaningful goals that individuals pursue in their everyday lives (Emmons, 1989, 1996; Cantor & Blanton, 1996). This research supports the idea that reflecting on one’s goals for a major life transition will facilitate adjustment during that transition. Choosing goals carefully will increase the probability that the goals will be appropriate to the individual’s interests and abilities. Hence, these goals will be more likely to be connected to the individual’s core sense of self (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999). Reflecting on possible goals and selecting appropriate goals will also facilitate goal attainment by giving the individual a firm goal intention. Gollwitzer (1996) and his colleagues (Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998) propose that effortful action begins with a goal intention. A goal intention leads to forming implementation intentions, or specific plans for action, which have been found to facilitate persistence in pursuing a goal. Taylor and her colleagues’ (Taylor & Pham, 1996; Taylor et al., 1998) research on mental simulation has established that imagining the process of pursuing a goal facilitates obtaining that goal. Cantor and her colleagues (Cantor et al., 1987; Cantor & Langston, 1989) found that plan reflectivity (the degree to which one thinks through their plans) predicted academic performance among first semester college students. These results together suggest that reflecting on one’s goals for college will help to prepare students to persist in meeting their goals once on campus. Reflection may be especially important for pursuing academic goals because college students consistently rate them as more difficult and stressful than social and extra-curricular goals (Cantor et al., 1987). In other words, choosing appropriate academic goals and thinking through the best means of pursuing them seems to be more effortful and, thus, requires more reflection than college goals in other areas. While simply thinking about your goals is expected to facilitate intrinsic motivation and adjustment, having the sense that these goals are autonomously chosen can make them an even more powerful motivator. Despite the independence that college students enjoy, some may still feel substantial pressure to meet the expectations of parents, teachers or, more generally, the adult world (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Thus, students may reflect on their future in college with these expectations in mind rather than their own interests and abilities. Research on personal goals suggests that goals can be self-chosen, but not truly ‘personal’ in the sense that they are not fully integrated with the individual’s sense of self (Sheldon & Kasser, 1995; Sheldon & Elliot, 1997). Goals that are not integrated with the self reflect pressures and expectations that an individual feels rather than their true interests and abilities. Because students do not fully identify with these goals, they will not be pursued as vigorously as more autonomous goals will be. The concept of autonomous regulation was first proposed by Deci and Ryan (1985, 1987) as part of their Self-Determination theory. An inner endorsement of, and a personal willingness to pursue a goal characterize autonomous endorsement of that goal. A goal that is endorsed in order to meet expectations or to lessen feelings of guilt or COLLEGE GOALS 193 anxiety is not pursued with a sense of autonomy. Research shows that autonomous regulation promotes successful goal attainment (Sheldon & Elliot, 1997). Autonomous regulation has also been found to be associated with positive affect and well-being (Sheldon & Kasser, 1995). Thus, endorsing autonomous reasons for pursuing goals should lead to better academic performance, higher levels of intrinsic motivation and better emotional and social adjustment during the first semester. The present study sought to investigate the degree to which reflection on goals and the autonomy of goals of prospective students predicted college adjustment, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and academic performance during the first semester of college. Hypotheses were that: (a) reflection on goals will predict intrinsic motivation, positive change in academic adjustment, and academic performance; (b) autonomous regulation will predict positive change in reported adjustment (especially social and emotional adjustment), intrinsic motivation, and academic performance; (c) these effects will be obtained with SAT scores, high school GPA, and social desirability scores statistically controlled. 2. Method 2.1. PARTICIPANTS Participants were entering first year students at a small liberal arts college in the northeastern United States. Three hundred and eighty two students volunteered to participate by responding to a questionnaire mailed to the homes of all incoming students (N = 731) in July of the summer preceding their first year at college. Fiftytwo percent of the sample was female, and 48% was male. All were between the ages of 17 and 20. Of those who volunteered, 200 were invited to participate in two follow-up assessments during the fall semester of their first year. In the first followup 159 students participated, making our initial participation rate 79.5%. Eighty-six students participated in the second follow-up session for a continued participation rate of 43%. To assess whether attrition influences our variables of central interest, independent groups t-tests were carried out between students who dropped out and students who continued their participation on all continuous variables at each stage. No significant differences were observed. 2.2. MATERIALS 2.2.1. College Goals Questionnaire (CGQ) This instrument was developed specifically for use in the present study and is included as Appendix A. The CGQ was designed to assess the degree to which students reflected on their goals before coming to college and the level of autonomy associated with their goals. The CGQ first asks respondents to rate the importance 194 REGINA CONTI of 30 goals. Three blank spaces are provided in order to allow students’ to add their own goals if they were not included on the initial list. The goals that were listed represent central motives that lure young adults to college (e.g., securing a good job, becoming well-educated, establishing enduring friendships, etc.). The list was developed during undergraduate student focus groups. A total of 18 students participated in three focus groups. These students were asked to list as many goals as they could think of for coming to college. They were then asked to divide their goals into meaningful categories. The group then discussed the various categories of goals they had developed. All major categories listed by these 18 students were included on the CGQ, even those that were likely to be endorsed only by a few students (e.g., to develop as a musician). The CGQ provides a list of goals, rather than asking students to generate their own goals (although they did have the option of doing so by using blank spaces) because it is designed to measure the level of autonomy and the degree of reflection associated with students’ most important goals rather than the content of the goals themselves. The relatively few number of participants who wrote in their own goals and the comments written by participants at the end of the CGQ indicated that the list captured goals that were important to these students. Despite the efficiency of the standardization of goals on the CGQ, the ecological validity of this method may be lower than methods which require students to generate goals independently. To assess the autonomy of students’ goals, the second section of the questionnaire asked students to list their four most important goals and then to rate five reasons for choosing these goals as most important. These reasons were based on the autonomous and controlled reasons used by Sheldon and Elliot (1997). The first highly autonomous reason was intrinsic satisfaction: ‘Because working toward this goal will be personally satisfying and enjoyable’. The second reflected integration of the goal into the self: ‘Because I genuinely believe that this is an important goal to strive toward; I endorse it freely and value it wholeheartedly’. The first less autonomous (or controlled) reason reflected parental control: ‘Because it is important to the people closest to me, achieving this goal would make them happy and proud’. The second reflected anticipated compensation: ‘Because it is important to society; I will receive tangible benefits and be considered a more valuable person if I achieve this goal’. The third indicated introjected regulation: ‘Because if I didn’t, I would feel guilty, ashamed or anxious; I feel as though it is a goal I ought to have’. The final section of the questionnaire was designed to measure the degree to which students reflected on their goals. Specifically, four items asked students to indicate where they fell on a continuum where one end indicated that students had not reflected at all, and the other indicated that students had reflected a great deal before filling out the questionnaire. Because it is socially desirable to think through one’s decisions, two items asked students to indicate the ease with which they filled out the questionnaire. Presumably, students who had already given a good deal of thought to their goals would not find it difficult to decide which of the listed goals COLLEGE GOALS 195 were important to them, while students who had not given much thought to their goals would find it difficult. These items were ‘I found it easy to decide which goals were important to me – I found it difficult to decide which goals were important to me’, and ‘I knew why the goals I chose were important to me – I had to think about why the goals I chose were important’, The other two items asked whether students thought about their college goals in a straightforward manner. These items were: ‘I found that I had already thought about the kinds of goals listed – I had not yet given detailed thought to the goals I will pursue in college’, and ‘I spend a good deal of time thinking about the goals I will pursue in college – I very rarely think about the goals I will pursue in college’. The CGQ yields scores for autonomy and reflection. The autonomy score is computed by averaging students’ ratings of autonomous reasons and subtracting the average of their ratings of controlled reasons (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.78); the reflection scale is computed by averaging the four bipolar items asking about reflection (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.55). The relatively low reliability of the reflection scale resulted from low, but positive, correlations between the two different kinds of reflection items. Because both types of items were thought to be important indicators of reflection, all four items were used. 2.2.2. Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ) The SACQ (see Baker & Siryk, 1989) measures adjustment to college. Academic adjustment, social adjustment, and emotional adjustment were of particular interest for this study. Each of these scales has shown high inter-item reliability in previous research (Cronbach’s alphas ranged from 0.82 to 0.87 for academic adjustment, from 0.83 to 0.89 for social adjustment, and from 0.73 to 0.79 for emotional adjustment), as well as in the present sample (Cronbach’s alphas for 1st follow-up = 0.86, 0.91, and 0.77, for 2nd follow-up = 0.86, 0.92, and 0.79 for academic, social, and emotional adjustment, respectively). Validity has been established by examining relations between these subscales and other relevant variables including attrition, first year grade point average, social activity participation, and the seeking of psychological support services (Baker & Siryk, 1984, 1989). 2.2.3. Work Preference Inventory (WPI) The WPI was designed to assess individual differences in students’ level of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation toward their college work (see Amabile et al., 1994). The two primary scales each show high inter-item reliability, both for this sample (Cronbach’s alphas = 0.76 and 0.78) and in previous research (Cronbach’s alphas = 0.75 and 0.70, for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, respectively). Previous research also shows that the instrument has adequate test–retest reliability (intrinsic motivation: 0.89, extrinsic motivation: 0.80) and is related in meaningful ways to other measures of motivation (Amabile et al., 1994). 196 REGINA CONTI 2.2.4. Social Desirability Scale (SDS) This scale is widely used to assess the extent to which participants endorse socially desirable responses (Crowne & Marlowe, 1960). 2.3. PROCEDURE Incoming students were mailed the CGQ in the second week of the July preceding their first year in college. Accompanying the CGQ was a letter explaining the procedures and general purpose of the study (to understand more fully the reasons that people choose to go to college). Recipients were asked to respond to the questionnaire and return it if they were interested in participating. In September of their first year, 200 of the students who responded to the CGQ were contacted by phone and asked to participate in a follow-up session. These students were either enrolled in Introductory Psychology and offered credit toward their experiment participation requirement or were offered $10 to participate. Those students who agreed were scheduled for group sessions late in September, during which they responded to the SACQ, WPI, and the Marlow-Crowne Social Desirability Inventory. The same procedure was used to recruit participants for the late- November follow-up during which students responded to the SACQ once again. SAT scores (verbal and math combined), high school grade point averages and first semester college grade point averages were obtained from the registrar’s office with the permission of participants. 3. Results Zero-order correlations among the 13 predictor and outcome variables were computed and are reported in Table I. The two central predictors, autonomy and reflection, were only slightly correlated. These predictors were also both positively related to intrinsic motivation, and autonomy was negatively related to extrinsic motivation. Several outcome measures were interrelated (especially measures of adjustment). These relationships were moderate, suggesting that measures of motivation, adjustment, and performance are separable and tap distinct constructs. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to examine relations between the two predictor variables, autonomy and reflection (from the CGQ), and the outcome variables of interest: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (from the WPI), first semester grade point average, and academic, social, and emotional adjustment (from the SACQ). Adjustment variables were measured at two points in time (September and November). The model used for analyses predicted the change in adjustment from September to November by entering September adjustment as a covariate in the analyses. In addition to the central predictor variables, two control variables were entered simultaneously in all equations: SAT score (verbal and math combined), and social desirability (from the SDS)1 . In equations predicting 2 3 4 5 6 7 1. Autonomy 0.09 0.05 0.12 0.24∗∗ −0.26∗∗∗ 0.17∗∗ 2. Reflection – 0.00 0.16∗ 0.32∗∗∗ 0.07 −0.04 ∗ 0.03 0.21∗∗∗ 3. SAT Score – −0.19 −0.01 4. Social Desirability – 0.09 −0.11 0.04 5. Intrinsic Motivation – 0.19∗∗ 0.13 6. Extrinsic Motivation – 0.11 7. Grade Point Average – 8. Academic Adjustment in September 9. Academic Adjustment in November 10. Social Adjustment in September 11. Social Adjustment in November 12. Emotional Adjustment September 13. Emotional Adjustment November 8 0.15 0.22∗∗ 0.03 0.26∗∗∗ 0.31∗∗∗ 0.02 0.32∗∗∗ – 9 10 0.12 0.06 0.29∗ 0.09 0.12 −0.17∗ ∗∗ 0.31 0.27∗∗∗ 0.16 0.12 0.01 −0.09 0.35∗∗∗ −0.14 0.67∗∗∗ 0.41∗∗∗ – 11 12 13 0.21∗ 0.22∗∗ 0.33∗∗ 0.07 0.06 0.11 −0.11 0.08 0.25∗ ∗∗ ∗∗∗ 0.33 0.26 0.26∗ ∗∗ −0.08 0.18 0.01 ∗∗ −0.06 −0.19 −0.17 −0.15 0.07 0.11 0.21 0.57∗∗∗ 0.43∗∗∗ 0.41∗∗∗ 0.34∗∗∗ 0.50∗∗∗ 0.54∗∗∗ – 0.81∗∗∗ 0.44∗∗∗ 0.48∗∗∗ – 0.39∗∗∗ 0.53∗∗∗ – 0.81∗∗∗ COLLEGE GOALS Table I. Correlations among motivation, academic achievement and adjustment variables – ∗ p < 0.05; ∗∗ p < 0.01; ∗∗∗ p < 0.001. 197 198 REGINA CONTI Table II. Summary of multiple regression analyses predicting motivational orientation and grade point average (N = 159) Outcome variable β Intrinsic motivation (R 2 = 0.15∗∗∗∗ ) Reflection Autonomy SAT score Social desirability 0.27∗∗ 0.17∗ 0.01 −0.02 Extrinsic motivation (R 2 = 0.12∗∗∗ ) Reflection Autonomy SAT score Social desirability 0.15∗ −0.31∗∗∗∗ 0.07 −0.05 Grade point average (R 2 = 0.12∗∗∗ ) Reflection Autonomy SAT score Social desirability Intrinsic motivation Extrinsic motivation 0.13∗ 0.18∗∗ 0.19∗∗ 0.00 0.17∗∗ 0.19∗∗ ∗ p < 0.15; ∗∗ p < 0.05; ∗∗∗ p < 0.01; ∗∗∗∗ p < 0.001. GPA and adjustment, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation were also entered as control variables. The results of these analyses are summarized in Tables II and III. These tables report both the overall R squared for each analysis to provide an estimate of the percent of variance in the outcome variable that is accounted for by the predictor variables, as well as the standardized regression coefficients which provide measures of how each predictor contributed to the regression equation. The three analyses reported in Table II showed that: (a) autonomy and reflection are significant predictors of intrinsic motivation; (b) autonomy shows a significant negative relationship with extrinsic motivation, while reflection shows a significant positive association with extrinsic motivation; and (c) autonomy, SAT score, and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are significant predictors of first semester college GPA. 199 COLLEGE GOALS Table III. Summary of multiple regression analyses for college goals variables predicting college adjustment in november (n = 86) β Academic adjustment (R 2 = 0.51∗∗∗∗ ) Previous academic adjustment Reflection Autonomy SAT score Social desirability Intrinsic motivation Extrinsic motivation 0.62∗∗∗∗ 0.16∗ 0.01 0.13∗ 0.16∗ −0.09 −0.02 Social adjustment (R 2 = 0.74∗∗∗∗ ) Previous social adjustment Reflection Autonomy SAT score Social desirability Intrinsic motivation Extrinsic motivation 0.79∗∗∗∗ 0.04 0.21∗∗∗ 0.03 0.12∗ −0.24∗∗∗ 0.03 Emotional adjustment (R 2 = 0.73∗∗∗∗ ) Previous emotional adjustment Reflection Autonomy SAT score Social desirability Intrinsic motivation Extrinsic motivation 0.77∗∗∗∗ 0.12∗ 0.18∗∗∗∗ 0.19∗∗ 0.08 −0.21∗∗ −0.03 ∗ p < 0.15; ∗∗ p < 0.05; ∗∗∗ p < 0.01; ∗∗∗∗ p < 0.001. The three analyses reported in Table III showed that: (a) for all three types of adjustment there is a fair degree of stability; previous adjustment was the strongest predictor; (b) reflection was a weak positive predictor of positive change in academic and emotional adjustment; and (c) autonomy strongly predicted positive change in social and emotional adjustment. Interestingly, intrinsic motivation, which was intended as a control variable, emerged as a significantly predicting negative change in emotional and social adjustment. 200 REGINA CONTI For all of the analyses reported in Tables II and III, the F-values for the overall equations were statistically significant. Taken together, these analyses show substantial support for my hypotheses. Results in which reflection was a significant predictor provide support for two parts of hypothesis one. Reflection on goals significantly predicted intrinsic motivation toward academic work (see Table II). Reflection also marginally predicted change in academic adjustment from September to November (see Table III). The zeroorder correlation between reflection and academic adjustment in September and November was positive. However, there was only a weak relationship between reflection on goals and first semester grade point average. Results in which autonomy was a significant predictor provide substantial support for hypothesis two. Autonomy scores significantly predicted intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation (negative relationship), and grade point average (see Table II). It is interesting to note that autonomy accounted for nearly as much variance in first semester college GPA as SAT scores. Autonomy also significantly predicted improved social and emotional adjustment from September to November. All of these relationships were observed with SAT, social desirability, and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation statistically controlled, supporting hypothesis three. 4. Discussion The results of this study show that both reflecting on one’s goals for college and the autonomy of those goals are related to success during the first semester. Specifically, students who reflect on their goals for college report higher levels of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Students who feel autonomous in their goal pursuit are more intrinsically motivated, less extrinsically motivated, perform better academically, and show improvement in social and emotional adjustment over the first several months of college. Although not all predictions were supported, these findings present a pattern that is consistent with the view that developing a sense of purpose for attending college provides a motivational foundation that is crucial to successful adjustment, motivation, and performance. These findings add to the literature supporting Self-Determination theory and have interesting implications for the growing literature on personal goals. This work also suggests practical approaches to help young adults prepare themselves for college. The study of goal-setting, which has traditionally depended on laboratory experiments, has increasingly become concerned with the importance of goals in the context of individuals’ everyday lives (Cantor & Blanton, 1996; Emmons, 1996; Klinger, 1996; Sheldon & Elliot, 1997). The present research adds to this literature by showing that simply thinking about one’s goals prior to approaching the transition to college is associated with greater intrinsic motivation toward academic work during the first semester. Reflection on goals was shown to have positive motivational effects, despite the limited reliability of the four-item measure used in this research. These results are consistent with the view that reflecting on goals COLLEGE GOALS 201 leads to a greater ability to mobilize one’s energy toward academic pursuits, but they are also consistent with other patterns of causality. It is possible, for example, that students who are tending toward an intrinsic motivational orientation during high school are more excited about the academic goals they will have the opportunity to pursue in college. Hence, these students think more about their goals and also report more intrinsic motivation during their first semester. The observed pattern of results also does not rule out the possibility that reflection can have negative implications for some students. Work on problem-focused coping suggests that while thought directed toward life problems can sometimes be productive, this kind of reflection can also carry the negative emotional effects that come with rumination (Greenberg, 1995; Schiaffino & Revenson, 1995). Further research is needed to explore the process that explains the connections observed in this study. Longitudinal research that begins early in high school could investigate why some students reflect on their goals for college while others do not. Field experiments could explore whether interventions that promote reflection on college goals are effective in promoting intrinsic motivation and academic adjustment and if reflection can lead to rumination. Understanding the content of students’ reflections and the mechanisms by which they have beneficial effects is another area where future research is needed. Such research could investigate whether reflection has its positive effects by influencing goal choice or by influencing the strategy or persistence with which students pursue their goals. In the present study, only a very weak relationship was observed between reflection and autonomy, suggesting that reflecting on college goals did not necessarily lead students to choose goals they genuinely wanted to pursue. Previous research suggests that reflection will influence the strategies and persistence with which an individual pursues his goals. For example, Gollwitzer’s (1996; Gollwitzer & Schaal, 1998) research on implementation intentions suggests that reflection focused on developing specific plans for action will facilitate goal attainment. Research on mental simulation is consistent with this view. Taylor and Pham (1998) found that reflecting on the process of attaining a goal facilitates exerting effort toward that goal while reflecting on the outcome of attaining a goal does not have such an effect. Clearly, some kinds of reflection are more productive than others. In addition to simply thinking about one’s goals for college, a firm connection between those goals and one’s sense of self is important for positive adjustment and motivation. In the present study, students who were pursuing autonomous goals, goals that were closely linked with their sense of self, faired substantially better than those whose goals felt externally controlled. Autonomy was related to academic performance and intrinsic motivation as well as improved emotional and social adjustment over time. These findings add to the already extensive literature supporting Self-Determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1987, 1991; Deci, 1999). They are also consistent with the SelfConcordance model (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999) which draws on the concepts of 202 REGINA CONTI Self-Determination theory to explore the means by which autonomous goal pursuit leads to well-being. This model outlines the process of choosing goals that are well matched with one’s core interests and values, successfully attaining those goals and experiencing enhanced well-being. The present study shows that students who choose college goals that are experienced as autonomous are adjusting more easily to college life, and are more successful academically. Choosing autonomous goals and reflecting on those goals appears to be important regardless of a student’s level of academic ability. It is possible that students’ tendency to reflect on their goals and feel autonomous in pursuing them could be determined by students’ intellectual ability. One might imagine that academically talented high school students would have more of a tendency to look ahead to college and also would fare better once they arrived. The present results do show that measures of academic ability were associated with academic performance and to a lesser extent with motivation and adjustment. However, the impact of reflection and autonomy was substantial even when these variables were included in the regression equations. Thus, while academic ability is important for success in college, it may be less important than having well-thought-through, autonomously regulated goals. This motivational preparation for college had positive effects not only for the academically gifted, but for all students who participated in the present research. The present research also investigated the possibility that the hypothesized relationships could be accounted for by a tendency to respond in a socially desirable manner. Although the rated autonomy of students goals and their reported adjustment was significantly related to social desirability scores, these effects could not have accounted for the hypothesized relationships observed. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation were also included as control variables in the analyses of academic performance and adjustment to confirm that the effects of autonomy and reflection were not simply a function of motivational orientation. The connection between academic adjustment and reflection shown in the correlation analyses did not emerge in the regression analyses suggesting that intrinsic motivation may play a mediating role. In the analyses of emotional and social adjustment, intrinsic motivation emerged as a negative predictor, perhaps indicating competition between adjustment domains. Students primarily motivated toward becoming involved in their academic work may have greater difficulty with social and emotional adjustment. Several limitations must be considered in interpreting the findings of the present study. There was substantial drop out between each of the questionnaire administrations. The findings reported may have been influenced by the characteristics of the self-selected group of individuals who chose to respond at each followup. The limited reliability of reflection measure also may have influenced these findings. Future research can further explore the effects of reflection by using a more extensive measure of reflection which shows better reliability and distinguishes between different types of reflection. The present study also did not COLLEGE GOALS 203 examine changes in intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from high school to college. Such data would be useful for determining how intrinsic motivation toward college coursework develops. In summary, these findings represent an important first step toward understanding why some individuals are well able to mobilize their efforts in college, while others have difficulty. The theoretically derived hypotheses tested in the present study have considerable applied value. High school teachers, guidance counselors, and parents may consider encouraging students to reflect on their goals and to choose personally important goals while they are preparing for college. Colleges might profit from focusing pre-matriculation writing assignments on goal clarification. First-semester instructors could include personal goal setting as topic for personal reflection essays, and class discussions could be used to promote autonomous goal pursuit. The results of the present study suggest that these efforts would be well worth the additional time they would require. Developing a personal goal system that facilitates a successful transition to college will prepare the young adult to take every opportunity to develop his or her interests and abilities in college and beyond. Notes 1 Preliminary analyses established that there were no significant gender differences. To examine the interaction between reflection and autonomy their product was also entered in preliminary analyses. This term was not a significant predictor in any of the final equations. High school GPA was initially entered as a control variable. Because it accounted for a significant proportion of variance only in the intrinsic motivation equation, it was dropped from subsequent analyses. Acknowledgements I would like to thank Paula Crivelli, Amy Grennan, Bethany Klynn, Carla Maine, Michele Park, Katharine Pitula, Kelly Rourke, Danielle Schade, Jill Smith, and Eliza Whoriskey for their help with collecting the data reported here. I am also grateful to Robert W. Baker, John F. Dovidio, Anne Fontana, Caroline Keating, Kennon Sheldon, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. 204 REGINA CONTI Appendix A: College goals inventory Indicate how important each goal is for you right now by circling one number from 1 (not at all important) to 5 (extremely important). Feel free to add personal goals that are not listed in the blanks at the bottom of the page. How important is it to you to... Not at all become a well educated person? explore topics that are new to you? live away from your family? develop enduring friendships? prepare for a fulfilling career? increase your earning potential? learn more about your culture? learn more about other cultures? meet new and interesting people? secure a good job after graduating? make independent decisions? develop strong writing skills? begin an intimate relationship? pursue admission to graduate programs? prepare yourself to contribute to society? decide what you value in life? earn high grades? develop as an athelete? develop as an artist or musician? learn more about yourself? assume a leadership position on campus? join a fraternity/sorority? enjoy the social life on campus? increase your ability to solve problems? develop your academic potential? explore career options/alternatives? 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Extremely 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 2 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 4 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 5 205 COLLEGE GOALS Not at all make contacts for your career? Extremely 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 Of the goals listed on the first page, please choose the four that are most important to you and list them in the boxes on next two pages. Then, for each goal, respond to the 5 items below it by circling the one number that corresponds to how true that statement is for you. Most important goal: (choose from list on page 204) Why is this goal important to you? Not at all true for me Because it is important to the people closest to me, achieving this goal would make them happy and proud. Very true for me 1 2 3 4 5 Because it is important to society. I will 1 receive tangible benefits and be considered a more valuable person if I achieve this goal. 2 3 4 5 Because if I didn’t, I would feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious. I feel as though it is a goal I ought to have. 1 2 3 4 5 Because I genuinely believe that this is an important goal to strive toward. I endorse it freely and value it wholeheartedly. 1 2 3 4 5 206 REGINA CONTI Not at all true for me Because working toward this goal will be 1 personally satisfying and enjoyable. My primary reason is my interest in the experience itself. Very true for me 2 3 4 5 Second most important goal: (choose from list on page 204) Why is this goal important to you? Not at all true for me Very true for me Because it is important to the people closest to me; achieving this goal would make them happy and proud. 1 2 3 4 5 Because it is important to society. I will receive tangible benefits and be considered a more valuable person if I achieve this goal. 1 2 3 4 5 Because if I didn’t, I would feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious. I feel as though it is a goal I ought to have. 1 2 3 4 5 Because I genuinely believe that this is an important 1 goal to strive toward. I endorse it freely and value it wholeheartedly. 2 3 4 5 Because working toward this goal will be personally 1 satisfying and enjoyable. My primary reason is my interest in the experience itself. 2 3 4 5 207 COLLEGE GOALS Third most important goal: (choose from list on page 204) Why is this goal important to you? Not at all true for me Because it is important to the people closest to me; achieving this goal would make them happy and proud. Very true for me 1 2 3 4 5 Because it is important to society. I will receive 1 tangible benefits and be considered a more valuable person if I achieve this goal. 2 3 4 5 Because if I didn’t, I would feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious. I feel as though it is a goal I ought to have. 1 2 3 4 5 Because I genuinely believe that this is an important 1 goal to strive toward. I endorse it freely and value it wholeheartedly. 2 3 4 5 Because working toward this goal will be personally 1 satisfying and enjoyable. My primary reason is my interest in the experience itself. 2 3 4 5 Fourth most important goal: (choose from list on page 204) Why is this goal important to you? Not at all true for me Because it is important to the people closest to me; 1 achieving this goal would make them happy and proud. 2 Very true for me 3 4 5 208 REGINA CONTI Not at all true for me Very true for me Because it is important to society. I will receive 1 tangible benefits and be considered a more valuable person if I achieve this goal. 2 3 4 5 Because if I didn’t, I would feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious. I feel as though it is a goal I ought to have. 1 2 3 4 5 Because I genuinely believe that this is an important 1 goal to strive toward. I endorse it freely and value it wholeheartedly. 2 3 4 5 Because working toward this goal will be personally satisfying and enjoyable. My primary reason is my interest in the experience itself. 2 3 4 5 1 Please respond to each of the following sentence stems by circling the one number that best corresponds to how you felt while filling out the first two parts of the questionnaire. Which statement describes how you feel? A B A is true for me B true for me I found that I had already thought about the kinds of goals listed on the first page. I had not yet given 1 detailed thought to the goals I will pursue at Colgate. 2 3 4 5 I found it very easy to decide which goals (on page 204) are important to me. I found it difficult to 1 decide which goals are important to me. 2 3 4 5 209 COLLEGE GOALS A B I knew, right away, why I had to reflect before the goals I chose are deciding why the goals important to me I chose are important. (pages 205 & 206). 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Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior. New York: The Guilford Press, pp. 219–235. Taylor, Shelley E., Pham, Lien B., Rivkin, Inna D., & Armor, David A. (1998). Harnessing the imagination: Mental simulation, self-regulation, and coping. American Psychologist, 53, 429– 439. Vallerand, Robert J., Pelletier, Luc G., Blais, Marc R., Briere, Natalie M. et al. (1993). On the assessment of intrinsic, extrinsic and amotivation in education: Evidence on the concurrent and construct validity of the Academic Motivation Scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 53(1), 159–172. Biographical Note Regina Conti earned her Ph.D. in social psychology at Brandeis University and is presently an associate professor of psychology at Colgate University. Her research investigates the ways in which our guiding motives influence the quality of our work and experience. She has conducted studies investigating the motivational determinants of creativity, learning, procrastination, and our experience of time. Her work on procrastination was recently published in a special issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Behavior. An article on her research investigating the role of time in motivational experience will appear in the Journal of Personality in the upcoming year. The author has requested enhancement of the downloaded file. All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate.