If a student is unlikely to be successful in college, but wants to go, are they setting themselves up for a debilitating fall? An intriguing study finds no long-term emotional cost to aiming high but falling short. The study by Florida State University Sociology Professor John R. Reynolds, “Is There a Downside to Shooting for the Stars?” in the American Sociological Review, is described as the first large, national study to look at the mental health consequences of failing to meet educational expectations.
“My previous research showed that teenagers are increasingly unrealistic about what they will be able to achieve,” Reynolds said. “I wanted to see if there is anything wrong with that trend. Lots of theories predict that unmet goals will lead to frustration and anxiety. We were very surprised to find out that over-ambition is not a big concern, at least not from a mental health perspective.”
The study found no long-term emotional costs of aiming high and falling short when it comes to educational aspirations. “We should not be in a hurry to dissuade these students from planning to go to college,” Reynolds said. “In fact, the only way to guarantee negative mental health outcomes is not trying. Aiming high and failing is not consequential for mental health, while trying may lead to higher achievements and the mental and material benefits that go along with those achievements.”