Factors Promoting Positive Adaptation and Resilience during the Transition to College


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 implications 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 determine 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.

Share and Cite:

Leary, K. & DeRosier, M. (2012). Factors Promoting Positive Adaptation and Resilience during the Transition to College. Psychology, 3, 1215-1222. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.312A180.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Adam, T. C., & Epel, E. S. (2007). Stress, eating and the reward system. Physiology & Behavior, 91, 449-458. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.04.011
[2] Andrews, B., & Wilding, J. M. (2004). The relation of depression and anxiety to life-stress and achievement in students. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 509-521. doi:10.1348/0007126042369802
[3] Aspinwall, L. G., & Taylor, S. E. (1992). Modeling cognitive adaptation: A longitudinal investigation of the impact of individual differences and coping on college adjustment and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 989-1003. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.63.6.989
[4] Astin, J. A., & Forys, K. (2004). Psychosocial determinants of health and illness: Integrating mind, body, and spirit. Advances in Mind Body Medicine, 20, 14-21.
[5] Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
[6] Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497
[7] Bayram, N., & Bilgel, N. (2008). The prevalence and socio-demographic correlations of depression, anxiety, and stress. Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology, 43, 667-672. doi:10.1007/s00127-008-0345-x
[8] Beck, A. T. (1987). Cognitive models of depression. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 1, 5-37.
[9] Berchtold, N. C. (2008). Exercise, stress mechanisms, and cognition. In W. Spirduso, L. Poon, & W. Chodzko-Zajko (Eds.), Exercise and its mediating effects on cognition (pp. 47-67). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
[10] Brissette, I., Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (2002). The role of optimism in social network development, coping, and psychological adjustment during a life transition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 102-111. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.82.1.102
[11] Buckner, J. C., Mezzacappa, E., & Beardslee, W. R. (2003). Characteristics of resilient youths living in poverty: The role of self-regulatory processes. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 139-162. doi:10.1017/S0954579403000087
[12] Cartwright, M., Wardle, J., Steggles, N., Simon, A. E., Croker, H., & Jarvis, M. J. (2003). Stress and dietary practices in adolescents. Health Psychology, 22, 362-369. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.22.4.362
[13] Cobb, S. (1978). Social support as a moderator of life stress. Psychosomatic Medicine, 38, 300-314.
[14] Cohen, S., & Janicki-Deverts, D. (2009). Can we improve our physical health by altering our social networks? Perspectives on Psych ological Science, 4, 375-378. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01141.x
[15] Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (1983). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 24, 385 396. doi:10.2307/2136404
[16] Cohen, S., & Pressman, S. (2004). The stress-buffering hypothesis. In N. Anderson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of health and behavior (pp. 780 782). Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. doi:10.4135/9781412952576.n200
[17] DeRosier, M. E., Craig, A. B., & Leary, K. A. (2012). Resilience during students’ transition to college: Towards a measure of four key resilience factors. Tampa, FL: Society for Research in Child Development: Transitions from Adolescence to Adulthood.
[18] DeRosier, M. E., & Raab, L. H. (2011). SCoRE: Student curriculum on resilience education. Cary, NC: 3-C Institute for Social Development.
[19] Dweck, C. S. (2002). Messages that motivate: How praise molds students’ beliefs, motivation, and performance (in surprising ways). In J. Aronson (Ed.), Improving academic achievement. New York, NY: Academic Press.
[20] Edenfield, T. M., & Blumenthal, J. A. (2011). Exercise and stress reduction. In E. J. Contrada, & A. Baum (Eds.), The handbook of stress science: Biology, psychology, and health (pp. 301-319). New York, NY: Springer Publishing.
[21] Fincham, F. D., Hokoda, A., & Sanders, R. (1989). Learned helplessness, test anxiety, and academic achievement: A longitudinal analysis. Child Development, 60, 138-145. doi:10.2307/1131079
[22] Fisher, R. A. (1915). Frequency distribution of the values of the correlation coefficient in samples of an indefinitely large population. Biometrika, 10, 507-521.
[23] Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218-226. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.56.3.218
[24] Fresco, D. M., Williams, N. L., & Nugent, N. R. (2006). Flexibility and negative affect: Examining the associations of explanatory flexibility and coping flexibility to each other and to depression and anxiety. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 30, 201-210. doi:10.1007/s10608-006-9019-8
[25] Furman, W., & Buhrmester, D. (1985). Children’s perceptions of the personal relationships in their social networks. Developmental Psychology, 21, 1016-1024. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.21.6.1016
[26] Gable, S. L., & Haidt, J. (2005). What (and why) is positive psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9, 103-110. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.103
[27] Gan, Y., Shang, J., & Zhang, Y. (2007). Coping flexibility and locus of control as predictors of burnout among chinese college students. Social Behavior and Personality, 35, 1087-1098. doi:10.2224/sbp.2007.35.8.1087
[28] Hall-Lande, J. A., Eisenberg, M. E., Christenson, S. L., & Neumark Sztainer, D. (2007). Social isolation, psychological health, and protective factors in adolescence. Adolescence, 42, 265-286.
[29] Hays, K. F. (1999). Working it out: Using exercise in psychotherapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10333-000
[30] Howard, S., Dryden, J., & Johnson, B. (1999). Childhood resilience: Review and critique of literature. Oxford Review of Education, 25, 307-323. doi:10.1080/030549899104008
[31] Hunter, M. S. (2006). Fostering student learning and success through first-year programs. Peer Review, 8, 4-7.
[32] Knapp, L. G., Kelly-Reid, J. E., & Ginder, S. A. (2011). Enrollment in postsecondary institutions, fall 2009; graduation rates, 2003 & 2006 cohorts; and financial statistics, fiscal year 2009. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, US Department of Education.
[33] LaGrange, B., Cole, D. A., Jacquez, F., Cielsa, J., Dallaire, D., Pineda, A., … Felton, J. (2011). Disentangling the prospective relations between cognitions and depressive symptoms. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120, 511-527. doi:10.1037/a0024685
[34] Lam, C. B., & McBride-Chang, C. A. (2007). Resilience in young adulthood: The moderating influences of gender-related personality traits and coping flexibility. Sex Roles, 56, 156-172. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9159-z
[35] Lepore, S. J., Silver, R. C., Wortman, C. B., & Wayment, H. A. (1996). Social constraints, intrusive thoughts, and depressive symptoms among bereaved mothers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 271-282. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.70.2.271
[36] Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1976). Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 105, 3-46. doi:10.1037/0096-3445.105.1.3
[37] McGregor, L. N., Gee, D. N., & Posey, K. E. (2008). I feel like a fraud and it depresses me: The relation between the imposter phenomenon and depression. Social Behavior and Personality, 36, 43-48. doi:10.2224/sbp.2008.36.1.43
[38] Meerlo, P., Sgoifo, A., & Suchecki, D. (2008). Restricted and disrupted sleep: Effects on autonomic function, neuroendocrine stress systems and stress responsivity. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 12, 197-210. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2007.07.007
[39] Multon, K. D., Brown, S. D., & Lent, R. W. (1991). Relation of self-efficacy beliefs to academic outcomes: A meta-analytic investigation. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 38, 30-38. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.38.1.30
[40] Padgett, R. D., & Keup, J. R. (2011). 2009 National survey of first-year seminars: Ongoing efforts to support students in transition. Research reports on College Transitions (Vol. 2). Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, University of South Carolina.
[41] Park, C. L., Moore, P. J., Turner, R. A., & Adler, N. E. (1997). The roles of constructive thinking and optimism in psychological and behavioral adjustment during pregnancy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 584-592. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.73.3.584
[42] Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: A review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18. doi:10.1097/00001504-200503000-00013
[43] Pritchard, M. E., & Wilson, G. S. (2003). Using emotional and social factors to predict student success. Journal of College Student Development, 44, 18-28. doi:10.1353/csd.2003.0008
[44] Robbins, S. B., Oh, I., Le, H., & Button, C. (2009). Intervention effects on college performance and retention as mediated by motivational, emotional, and social control factors: Integrated meta-analytic path analyses. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 1163-1184. doi:10.1037/a0015738
[45] Rubin, K. H., Bukowski, W. M., & Parker, J. G. (1998). Peer interactions, relationships, and groups. In N. Eisenberg (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Social, emotional, and personality development (5 ed., Vol. 3, pp. 619-700). New York, NY: Wiley.
[46] Sax, L. J., Bryant, A. N., & Gilmartin, S. K. (2004). A longitudinal investigation of emotional health among male and female first-year college. Journal of the First-Year Experience, 16, 39-65.
[47] Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5
[48] Seligman, M. E. P., Schulman, P., DeRubeis, R. J., & Hollon, S. D. (1999). The prevention of depression and anxiety. Prevention & Treatment, 2, Article 8. doi:10.1037/1522-3736.2.1.28a
[49] Shelby, R. A., Crespin, T. R., Wells-Di Gregorio, S. M., Lamdan, R. M., Siegel, J. E., & Taylor, K. L. (2008). Optimism, social support, and adjustment in African American women with breast cancer. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31, 433-444. doi:10.1007/s10865-008-9167-2
[50] Stone, A. A., & Brownell, K. D. (1994). The stress-eating paradox: Multiple daily measurements in adults males and females. Psychology & Health, 9, 425-436. doi:10.1080/08870449408407469
[51] Thoits, P. A. (1986). Social support as coping assistance. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 416-423. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.54.4.416
[52] Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2007). Regulation of positive emotions: Emotion regulation strategies that promote resilience. Journal of Happiness Studies, 8, 311-333. doi:10.1007/s10902-006-9015-4
[53] Tusaie, K., Puskar, K., & Sereika, S. M. (2007). A predictive and moderating model of psychosocial resilience in adolescents. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 39, 54-60. doi:10.1111/j.1547-5069.2007.00143.x
[54] Uchino, B. N. (2006). Social support and health: A review of physiological processes potentially underlying links to disease outcomes. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 29, 377-387. doi:10.1007/s10865-006-9056-5
[55] Walton, G. M., & Carr, P. B. (2012). Social belonging and the motivation and intellectual achievement of negatively stereotyped students. In M. Inzlicht & T. Schmader (Eds.), Stereotype threat: Theory, processes, and application (pp. 89-106). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
[56] Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2007). A question of belonging: Race, social fit, and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 82-96. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.1.82
[57] Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 331, 1447-1451. doi:10.1126/science.1198364
[58] Wheatley, D. (1993). Sleep patterns in anxiety and depression associated with stress. Stress & Health, 9, 127-129.
[59] Wong, J. S., Cheung, E. T., Chan, K. C., Ma, K. M., & Tang, S. (2006). Web-based survey of depression, anxiety and stress in first-year tertiary education students in Hong Kong. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 777-782. doi:10.1080/j.1440-1614.2006.01883.x
[60] Zajacova, A., Lynch, S. M., & Espenshade, T. J. (2005). Self-efficacy, stress, and academic success in college. Research in Higher Education, 46, 677-706. doi:10.1007/s11162-004-4139-z
[61] Zimmerman, B. J. (1989). A social cognitive view of self-regulated learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 329-339. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.81.3.329

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.