2012. Vol.3, No.12A, 1215-1222
Published Online December 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.312A180
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1215
Factors Promoting Positive Adaptation and Resilience during
the Transition to College
Kevin A. Leary, Melissa E. DeRosier
3-C Institute for Social Development, Cary, USA
Received September 29th, 2012; revised October 23rd, 2012; accepted November 22nd, 2012
The transition to college can be a difficult time as students adjust to new social and academic demands
while adapting to new living circumstances in a collegiate environment. The ability of students to cope
with the stress of such a transition and display positive outcomes despite challenges has important impli-
cations for psychosocial well-being as well as academic success. The present study examined the relative
impact of four domains that have been shown to promote resilience in the face of stress in order to deter-
mine the extent to which each factor predicted student stress independent of all other factors. First-year
college students from four universities completed measures assessing their perceived level of stress as
well as their social connectedness, self-care behaviors, cognitive style, and life skills. Results revealed
that social support and cognitive styles characterized by optimism significantly and uniquely predicted
lower stress among students. Findings are discussed in relation to the development of university-based
programs to promote the skills and characteristics that are most likely to result in positive outcomes for
students during the transition to college.
Keywords: Resilience; Stress; College; Adjustment
At the heart of positive psychology is the notion that psy-
chological research would benefit from focusing on the build-
ing of positive qualities in normal functioning individuals
rather than psychology’s long-standing pursuit of identifying
conditions and variables associated with repairing or avoiding
negative outcomes (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
Gable and Haidt (2005) defined positive psychology as “the
study of the conditions and processes that contribute to the
flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups, and insti-
tutions” (p. 104). From this perspective, positive psychologists
suggest that studying the variables that promote positive growth
and resilience in individuals without psychological distress may
be as beneficial as studying the treatment of individuals who
are already experiencing difficulties. With this in mind, the pre-
sent study sought to identify factors that promote positive adap-
tation and outcomes during a life transition faced by millions of
people every year—adjusting to college life.
The transition to college can be an exciting, albeit stressful,
time in students’ lives as many move away from friends and
family and must adapt to new and increasingly demanding aca-
demic, social, and financial pressures, all while adjusting to life
in an unfamiliar environment. As a result of this transition,
first-year college students tend to experience greater stress,
anxiety, and psychological distress (e.g., depression) relative to
upperclassman (Bayram & Bilgel, 2008). However, students
display varying levels of resilience in their ability to have posi-
tive outcomes in the face of such a transition. Research su-
pports the existence of a number of factors that have been asso-
ciated with positive responses in the face of stress, including
social support and having a close social network, taking care of
one’s self physically as well as mentally, possessing particular
skills (i.e., self-regulation, cognitive flexibility), and the style
with which one thinks about past and future events (i.e., opti-
mism, pessimism). Moreover, such factors seem to have a cu-
mulative effect on stress such that persons possessing a greater
number of protective factors are more likely to adapt positively
in the face of stress and display resilience (Howard, Dryden, &
Johnson, 1999). Importantly, the extent to which students are
able to cope with stressors during the first year of college has
important implications not only for their social-emotional ad-
justment and well-being, but also for the likelihood of acade-
mic success and persistence in postsecondary education (An-
drews & Wilding, 2004; Pritchard & Wilson, 2003; Zajacova,
Lynch, & Espenshade, 2005).
Little is known, however, with respect to the relative strength
of the effects of various factors that promote positive adaption
in the face of student stress. The findings of such an exami-
nation have significant implications for the development of pra-
ctices and programs to promote positive psychological adjust-
ment and, ultimately, academic success and retention by pro-
viding researchers, faculty, and administrators with information
concerning the factors that are most likely to promote resilience
and positive adaptation in the face of stress. The present study
aimed to explore and compare the effects of several resilience-
promoting domains that have been shown to be associated with
more positive outcomes in stressful situations among college
students to determine if possessing resources in any particular
domain was more strongly associated with positive stressrelated
outcomes than other domains when compared concurrently.
The four resilience factors included in the present study were
selected following an examination of the literature that revealed
that one’s social connections, self-care behaviors, cognitive
style, and life skills (e.g., regulatory and coping skills) tended
to be the domains most commonly identified as impacting feel-
K. A. LEARY, M. E. DEROSIER
ings of and responses to stress.
Social connections. For first-year college students, develop-
ing social connections and avoiding social isolation is a crucial
task during the transition to college and has important implica-
tions for students’ academic performance and persistence as
well as their psychological well-being. Not only have feelings
of belongingness been suggested to be a basic human need
(Baumeister & Leary, 1995), but the lack of positive relation-
ships with others has been found to predict academic under-
achievement (Walton & Cohen, 2007, 2011) and poor physical
health (Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, 2009; Uchino, 2006), as well
as depressive symptomology, greater stress, and higher levels
of anxiety (Hall-Lande, Eisenberg, Christenson, & Neumark-
Sztainer, 2007; Sax, Bryant, & Gilmartin, 2004). Further, the
quality of peer relationships and social support has been sug-
gested to be one of the most important predictors of psycho-
logical health and well-being during adolescence (Rubin, Bu-
kowski, & Parker, 1998).
In an effort to explain the association between social support
and stress during periods of change, Cobb (1978) suggested
that major transitions in life (e.g., beginning college) put people
at risk for increased stress. However, individuals who interpret
interactions and communications with others as indicative of
being cared for, valued, and part of a social network were likely
to experience less negative and more positive psychological
outcomes in the face of stressful events. In this way, social
support may buffer individuals from stress by affecting the
manner in which the stressful situation is appraised. Addi-
tionally, having persons to discuss stressful situations with has
been shown to reduce the likelihood of negative affective or
behavioral responses to stressful events (Lepore, Silver, Wort-
man, & Wayment, 1996), perhaps by offering a solution to
dealing with the stressor, decreasing the perceived salience of
the stressor, or distracting one from the stressor (Cohen &
As students transition from high school to college and find
themselves in unfamiliar environments with new and more de-
manding responsibilities, social support is an effective and
valuable resource to aid students in combating stress and anxi-
ety and promoting positive adjustment and well-being. As such,
students who perceive themselves as having high levels of so-
cial support may be buffered from some of the deleterious ef-
fects of stress during the transition to college.
Self-care. During times of stress, the extent to which indi-
viduals engage in health-promoting behaviors and maintain a
healthy life style has been found to positively impact their
psychological well-being. Evidence supports the existence of a
mind-body connection by which physical functioning and
health are associated with mental and emotional well-being
(Astin & Forys, 2004). Specifically, physical activity has been
found to benefit mental health and decrease symptoms of de-
pression and anxiety (see Penedo & Dahn, 2005, for a review).
Exercise has also been shown to reduce stress and promote
self-esteem and long-term cognitive and emotional well-being
(Berchtold, 2008; Edenfield & Blumenthal, 2011; Hays, 1999).
To the extent that students engage in self-care behaviors, such
as healthy eating and exercise, they may experience greater
lower distress during the transition to college.
In addition to promoting positive responses to stress, self-
care behaviors are often negatively impacted by stress. For
example, some people tend to eat more whereas others tend to
eat less when under stress (Stone & Brownell, 1994). Restric-
tions of caloric intake as well as over-indulgence both result in
negative outcomes for physical and psychological well-being.
At a neurophysiological level, eating unhealthy, high-fat, pal-
atable foods has been found to be associated with opioid release,
and opioid release increases the consumption of palatable foods.
Given that opioid release has a strong effect on reducing stress,
it is possible that unhealthy eating may become an addictive
response to stressful situations in an attempt to cope with stress
(see Adam & Epel, 2007). Moreover, self-caring, including
maintaining a healthy diet (Cartwright et al., 2003), getting
sufficient sleep (Meerlo, Sgoifo, & Suchecki, 2008; Wheatley,
1993), and treating one’s self with compassion, care, and kind-
ness (see Neff, 2009 for a review) have been found to lower
stress and promote positive psychological well-being.
Broadly, positive health-related behaviors that involve taking
care of one’s self, such as exercise, a healthy diet, adequate
sleep, and positive self-cognitions are important for lowering
stress and may promote psychological adjustment for students
during the transition to college.
Regulatory and coping skills. Personal, social, and be-
havioral abilities also play a role in affecting the manner in
which persons manage stressful situations. For example, evi-
dence suggests that lower levels of stress may be associated
with skills or abilities, such as self-regulation (i.e., controlling
one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors) which has been
shown to be associated with better adaptation in the face of
stress (Buckner, Mezzacappa, & Beardslee, 2003). The regula-
tion of positive emotions has also been linked to resilience to
the extent that they counteract negative emotional experiences
and enhance thoughts and actions (Fredrickson, 2001; Tugade
& Fredrickson, 2007). As such, students who possess better
self-regulatory capabilities and are in greater control of their
emotions, thoughts, and behaviors during stressful times should
experience more positive outcomes and greater resilience than
their counterparts with poorer self-regulation.
Additionally, the ability to be flexible in the use of coping
strategies that are adaptive and effective in response to specific
negative events has been found to relate to lower levels of
anxiety and depression (Fresco, Williams, & Nugent, 2006;
Lam & McBride-Chang, 2007). Research suggests that students
who are able to selectively engage particular strategies in the
service of coping with stress during the transition to college
should experience more positive outcomes and experience
lower rates of dropout than students who lack such flexibility
(Gan, Shang, & Zhang, 2007). The ability to recruit coping
resources that match the needs of a particular situation are more
effective at dampening stress compared to persisting in the use
of an unsuccessful or ineffective strategy in a stressful situation.
Cognitive style. We define cognitive style as the manner in
which students explain their personal successes and failures, as
well as their level of confidence in their own abilities and the
nature of their outlook for the future (i.e., optimistic/pessimi-
stic). Negative ways of thinking that relate to one’s self, world,
and future have been found to be indicative of latent depressive
cognitive styles (Beck, 1987), and these patterns of thought
have been found to be stable over time (LaGrange et al., 2011).
Persons who tend to view their selves, abilities, and actions
negatively tend to struggle to adapt to and overcome stressful
circumstances. Conversely, individuals who possess positive
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
K. A. LEARY, M. E. DEROSIER
cognitive styles that involve feeling in greater control of their
environment, having more confidence in their ability to over-
come obstacles, and a positive outlook for the future have been
found to be more resilient and experience greater psychological
well-being (Maier & Seligman, 1976; McGregor, Gee, & Posey,
2008; Tusaie, Puskar, & Sereika, 2007). For students adjusting
during the transition to college, the ability to maintain a posi-
tive perspective on one’s future helps promote resilience in di-
fficult moments, providing a buffer against the negative im-
pacts of stress and maintaining motivation to achieve one’s
goals (e.g., make good grades, bond with roommates, gain in-
The present study assessed the impact of factors that promote
resilience in the face of stress during the transition to college.
Of primary interest was the degree to which each resilience
factor predicted students’ stress independently of the other do-
mains of resources. Given the empirical support for the positive
stress-related outcomes associated with the aforementioned
domains, as well as the differential characteristics associated
with each (e.g., healthy diet as a self-care behavior, feeling
socially connected to others) we expected each factor to be
significantly and uniquely associated with lower student stress.
However, given the exploratory nature of the study, we had no
specific expectations regarding the differential strength of the
independent associations between the resilience factors and
student stress. Additionally, we examined the cumulative effect
of these resilience factors to ascertain the extent to which pos-
session of accumulated resources across multiple domains im-
pacted students’ adaptation to stress during the transition to
college. Importantly, we were interested in exploring the degree
to which the cumulative effects of the resilience factors pre-
dicted students’ stress responses above and beyond the effects
of the individual resilience factors. This aim was guided by the
hypothesis that students with a greater total number of resil-
ience-promoting resources would experience lower stress than
students who have fewer resources at their disposal as a result
of the greater availability of ways to combat stress. Moreover,
we expected that effect of the total number of resilience re-
sources would hold even when controlling for the effects of
each factor independently.
Participants were 120 first-year college students (94% fresh-
men, Mage = 18.73 years) from four colleges in Pennsylvania.
The majority of the student participants were female (86.7%)
due to high participation from an all-female university. The
sample was relatively diverse with 76.7% European American,
12.5% African American, 3.3% Asian, and 7.5% other racial
Perceived Stress Scale. The 10-item Perceived Stress Scale
(PSS; Cohen, Kamarack, & Mermelstein, 1983) is a welles-
tablished measure of individuals’ perceptions of their own
global level of stress. Samples items include, “In the last month,
how often have you felt nervous and stressed?” and “In the last
month, how often have you found that you could not cope with
all the things you had to do?” Students responded to items on a
5-point Likert-type scale (1 = Never and 5 = Very often). In the
current study, the PSS demonstrated good internal reliability (α
My Resilience Factors. The 30-item My Resilience Factors
questionnaire assesses four domains that have been found to be
associated with the ability to overcome stressful and difficult
situations and promote resilience (DeRosier, Craig, & Leary,
2012). Students responded to each item on a 4-point Likert
scale (1 = Not at all true or Never true about me and 4 = Very
or Almost always true about me) indicating how true each
statement is of them. The four categories of resilience include:
Social Connections (e.g., “I feel socially connected to others at
college;” 6 items; α = .72), Self-Care (e.g., “I exercise regularly
(at least once per week);” 7 items; α = .64), Life Skills (e.g.,
“I’m self-motivated to succeed;” 11 items; α = .85), and Cog-
nitive Style (e.g., “When bad things happen, I know things will
get better;” 6 items; α = .90).
Participants were first-year college students recruited as part
of a larger study assessing students’ resilience to stressful situa-
tions faced during the transition to college. Participating uni-
versities offered incoming freshman the opportunity to take part
in a pilot study designed to test a curriculum developed to build
students’ resilience. Students who volunteered to participate
completed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS; Cohen et al., 1983)
and My Resilience Factors (DeRosier & Raab, 2011) approxi-
mately six weeks into the first semester of college so as to al-
low for the opportunity for students to experience increases in
academic, social, and financial stress that often accompanies
the transition to college. Measures were completed via stu-
dents’ secure online accounts as part of the testing of the cur-
riculum developed to build and strengthen students’ resilience
in the face of stress during the first year of college.
Table 1 shows the means and standard deviations for all
variables as well as the bivariate correlations for all pairs of
variables. As can be seen, students’ perceived stress was sig-
nificantly and negatively correlated with each resilience factor,
suggesting that possessing higher levels of resilience-promoting
resources in each domain was associated with positive adap-
tation (i.e., lower levels of stress) during the transition to col-
lege. All domains of resilience factors were found to be sig-
nificantly correlated to one another indicating that higher scores
in any specific resilience-promoting domain tended to be asso-
ciated with higher scores in other domains. Moreover, the
moderate correlations among the resilience factors (as seen in
Table 1) suggest that although the factors are interrelated, they
may not be so highly correlated as to suggest that they are
measuring the same constructs.
Despite our predominantly female sample, exploratory analy-
ses were conducted to examine potential gender differences in
the presence of the protective factors as well as in students’
levels of perceived stress. Not surprisingly, no significant dif-
ferences were found for men and women. Examination of
means revealed negligible differences (<.09) for all variables
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1217
K. A. LEARY, M. E. DEROSIER
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Means, standard deviations, and bivariate correlations.
M SD PSS Social Connections Self-Care Life Skills
Perceived Stress (PSS) 2.60 .63
Social Connections 3.18 .55 –.46***
Self-Care 3.16 .50 –.33*** .49***
Life Skills 3.42 .42 –.49*** .51*** .55***
Cognitive Style 3.48 .56 –.55*** .50*** .53*** .77***
Note: *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001.
except for students’ social connections, wherein we found that
males (M = 3.39, S.D. = .63) reported greater social connections
than females (M = 3.15, S.D. = .54), although this difference
was not significant.
In addition, to explore whether the pattern of inter-correla-
tions among resilience factors differed for males versus females,
we conducted r-to-Z Fisher transformations (Fisher, 1915).
Again, no significant differences were found, indicating that
these resilience factors appeared to be inter-related in a similar
fashion for males and females.
Independent and Cumulative Effects of Resilience
Next, a hierarchical multiple regression analysis was con-
ducted to test the independent effects of each resilience factor
on students’ reports of stress controlling for all other domains,
as well as the unique cumulative effect of all resilience factors
on college students’ levels of perceived stress over and above
the effect of each independent factor. We also tested for main
effects and interactions with gender to explore the possibility
that differences exist in the effects of the resilience factors on
students’ stress as a function of gender. Once again, these
analyses were largely exploratory due to the disparity in the
numbers of males and females in the sample. However, the
presence of significant effects may suggest sizeable differences
between males and females to inform future research concern-
ing stress and coping in college students.
Students’ scores on the social connections, self-care, life
skills, and cognitive style subscales were entered along with
student gender on the first step of the present analysis. The
composite score consisting of the average across all resilience-
promoting factors was entered on the second step and two-way
interactions among the resilience factors and gender were en-
tered in the third step. As shown in Table 2, students’ social
connections and cognitive style were significantly inversely
related to students’ perceived stress, suggesting that students
who experienced greater social connectedness (β = –.21, t(114)
= –2.21, p = .03) and possessed a cognitive style characterized
by self-confidence and optimism (β = –.39, t(114) = –3.19, p
= .002) reported lower levels of stress during the first semester
of college independent of all other protective factors and gender.
Moreover, accounting for gender and all of the resilience-pro-
moting factors simultaneously explained a significant amount
of total variance in perceived stress, R2 = .34, F(5, 112) = 11.55,
p < .001.
The addition of the cumulative resilience factor (resulting
from the summation of all items across subscales) to the model
in the second step, however, did not explain additional unique
variance in students’ perceived stress, ΔR2 = .001, F-change (1,
111) = 0.09, p = .77. This finding suggests there may not be a
cumulative effect of these protective factors over and above the
independent effects of specific resilience-promoting factors.
That is, the accumulation of resources from multiple resilience-
promoting domains did not explain additional unique variance
above and beyond what is accounted for by the independent
resilience factors. Moreover, the inclusion of the cumulative
factor score resulted in the previously significant predictors
(social connections, cognitive style) becoming non-significant
predictors. Similarly, the inclusion of two-way interactions in
the final step did not result in a significant increase in explained
variance [ΔR2 = .02, F-change (5, 106) = 0.80, p = .55], indica-
ting that our preliminary and exploratory examination of gender
revealed no significant differences in the associations between
resilience factors and students’ stress as a function of gender.
In sum, our results suggest that students’ social connected-
ness and optimistic thinking style were the most important pre-
dictors of students’ positive adjustment during the transition to
college. However, inclusion of a cumulative resilience factor to
the model did not explain additional variance in stress and re-
sulted in the previously significant predictors dropping to non-
significance. This finding suggests that the cumulative factor
contributed no additional unique variance, but also shared va-
riance with social connections and cognitive style resulting in
these variables becoming not significant predictors of student
stress. Finally, no main effect of gender or two-way interactions
among the resilience factors and gender were found to signi-
ficantly relate to students’ stress during the transition to college,
suggesting that this predictive pattern was similar for both gen-
The prevalence of stress and anxiety in first-year college
students underscores the need for adequate and appropriate
support services to help students successfully transition to post-
secondary learning (Wong, Cheung, Chan, Ma, & Tang, 2006).
In fact, the extent to which students are able to cope with
stressors during the first year of college is directly related to
their academic resilience (Zajacova et al., 2005). Many col-
leges and universities employ First Year Experience (FYE)
programs to help orient and acclimate first-year students
(Hunter, 2006) to campus life. These programs consist of a
wide range of activities, including summer orientation days for
new students, first-semester seminars, student- or faculty-led
support groups, and enhanced advisory plans. However, typical
FYE programs for supporting students in this transition rarely
directly address stress, coping, and resilience with students, but
K. A. LEARY, M. E. DEROSIER
Hierarchical multiple regression predicting student stress.
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Predictor ∆R2 ∆R2 ∆R2
.34*** .001 .02
Gender –.01 –.01 –.04
Social Connections –.21* –.13 –.14
Self-Care –.04 –.11 –.17
Life Skills –.10 –.04 –.09
Cognitive Style –.39** –.30 –.23
Cumulative Factor –.25 –.47
Gender × Social Connections –.24
Gender × Self-Care –.32
Gender × Life Skills –.27
Gender × Cognitive Style –.38
Gender × Cumulative Factor –.98
Note: p < .10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.
rather target practical (e.g., dining halls, dorm life) and acade-
mic (e.g., course scheduling) aspects of adjusting to college life
(Hunter, 2006; Padgett & Keup, 2011). Unfortunately, a recent
meta-analysis showed typical FYE programs are not signifi-
cantly related to academic success with an average correlation
of only .023 across studies (Robbins, Oh, Le, & Button, 2009).
Moreover, a growing literature points to the influential role of
social-emotional factors in academic performance and persis-
tence (Dweck, 2002; Walton & Carr, 2012; Walton & Cohen,
This study examined the independent and cumulative effects
of four non-academic domains previously found to help in-
dividuals overcome stressful situations and develop resilience:
social connections, self-care, cognitive style, and regulatory and
coping skills. The results of this research indicate that social
connectedness and cognitive style were the most important pre-
dictors of students’ stress during the transition to college. In
fact, these two factors were each independently and directly
related to students’ level of stress during the first 6 weeks of
college. These findings suggest the potential value of integrat-
ing resources and tools into FYE programs that explicitly help
students build social connections and foster optimistic, effi-
cacious cognitive styles. Emphasizing the importance of these
types of social-emotional resilience strategies could effectively
increase first year students’ ability to cope with the stressors of
college and thereby significantly increase students’ academic
and social-emotional adjustment at college as well as their per-
sistence in postsecondary education.
The critical role of social connections found in this study is
consistent with a large body of past research underscoring their
value and importance for mental health and well-being. Social
relationships provide key functions of support, intimacy, com-
panionship, and affirmation that are essential throughout the
lifetime, and particularly during stressful transitions (Furman &
Buhrmester, 1985). In fact, Thoits (1986) posited that the
threatening demands imposed by a stressor may be re-construed
if an individual believes that others will provide them with
support to help deal with the stressful event. In such a case, the
negative effects of the stressor may be attenuated as people’s
belief in their own ability to cope with the event is strengthened
as a result of perceived social support. Helping students build
new social connections within the postsecondary environment
would be expected to significantly improve both their adjust-
ment to college and their likelihood of persisting in college to
graduation. Given that evidence suggests even brief interven-
tions promoting social connections and feelings of belonging-
ness can have long-lasting, observable benefits for mental
health and academic achievement (Walton & Cohen, 2011),
incorporating strategies to build social connections into FYE
programs may be particularly useful.
The current study’s finding that cognitive style contributed
considerably to college stress is also consistent with the lite-
rature across a broad array of areas of adjustment (Aspinwall &
Taylor, 1992; Brissette, Scheier, & Carver, 2002; Park, Moore,
Turner, & Adler, 1997; Shelby et al., 2008). Theory and re-
search underlying cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) specify
how cognitive appraisals of stressful situations directly impact
stress and anxiety as well as behavioral responses (Seligman,
Schulman, DeRubeis, & Hollon, 1999). Maladaptive thoughts
concerning the absence of personal control and futility of one’s
actions are associated with academic problems as well as poor
social-emotional adjustment (Fincham, Hokoda, & Sanders,
1989). Helping students revise their cognitive appraisals by
altering the manner in which they interpret the cause of events
and through development of learned optimism (belief that your
actions are meaningful and you have personal control over
events in your life) would be expected to increase academic
persistence through greater confidence and feelings of control
in the collegiate environment (Bandura, 1986; Multon, Brown,
& Lent, 1991; Zimmerman, 1989). FYE programs could in-
tegrate cognitive resilience strategies to help students assess
their cognitions related to difficult situations at college and
revise these, as needed, to increase adaptation.
Counter to expectations, self-care and regulatory skills were
not independently related to students’ perceived stress when
accounting for all resilience-promoting factors concurrently.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 1219
K. A. LEARY, M. E. DEROSIER
This finding may be attributable to the tendency for persons
with optimistic and positive future orientations to be more
likely to engage such thoughts in the service of regulating their
emotions during periods of stress. Additionally, students with
more positive outlooks may be more likely to take part in self-
care behaviors in an effort to maximize their physical, emo-
tional, and mental well-being in the future. The lack of findings
supporting a unique effect for the accumulation of resilience
resources is also noteworthy as it suggests that student stress
can be effectively lowered through the bolstering of resources
in any of the individual resilience-promoting domains.
While the exploratory analyses included in this study found
no evidence of gender differences in the patterns of results, the
largely female sample limited our ability to draw conclusions
from these results. Future work with equitable sample sizes is
needed to further assess whether gender differences exist in the
factors that promote resilience in the face of stressful circum-
From the perspective of positive psychology, findings from
this study suggest a way in which college officials and admini-
strators may structure students’ first-year seminars and orien-
tation programs to promote the most positive development and
outcomes during students’ adjustment to college life. Currently,
relatively little is known about how interventions to increase
resilience for coping during the transition to college can be used
to increase students’ persistence in, and completion of, post-
secondary education. This work is especially needed given
recent research indicating that, on average, only 57% of stu-
dents who enroll as freshmen at four-year institutions will gra-
duate from that school within six years (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, &
Ginder, 2011). One explanation for such high rates of post-
secondary dropout is the inability for some students to adjust to
and cope with the transition to postsecondary learning and the
concomitant increase in stressors. Identifying characteristics
that are associated with resilience and fostering development of
those facets in students is crucial for promoting academic resi-
lience and overall well-being.
Our results suggest that providing students the opportunity to
develop social connections and learn optimistic and motivated
thinking styles might be particularly helpful in promoting psy-
chological well-being by preparing and assisting students in
dealing with the transition to college. Future research should
continue this line of study. In particular, longitudinal investiga-
tions of the impact of different resilience factors over the course
of the first year of college would be extremely important to
determine the relative impact of each of the four resilience fac-
tors over time. Also, investigations of FYE programs designed
to increase social, cognitive, self-care, and behavioral coping
skills are needed in order to inform the application of intervene-
tions focusing on specific resilience factors that can effectively
benefit students’ adjustment to college over time.
This research was funded in part by LEAD Pittsburgh and we
would like to thank Sheila Fine, Toni Macpherson, Sean
McGreevey, Lauren Raab, and Ashley Craig for their tireless
efforts on this project. Additionally, we would like to thank the
BNY Mellon Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Jewish
Healthcare Foundation, The Giant Eagle Corportation, The Fine
Foundation, The McQuinn Family Foundation, The Heinz En-
dowments, PNC Foundation, Mary Hillman Jennings Foun-
dation, Staunton Farm Foundation, and UPMC Healthcare for
their generous support of this project. Finally, we would like to
thank the Chatham University, Robert Morris University, Car-
low University, Carnegie Mellon University and their students
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