The Low Risk of High Expectations

by Robert Pondiscio
March 29th, 2010

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.”


  1. What about the financial costs? How many young people wind up saddled with thousands of dollars’ worth of student loans but no degree?

    Comment by Crimson Wife — March 29, 2010 @ 4:23 pm

  2. [...] Core Knowledge Blog has an interesting post on The Low Risk of High Expectations. [...]

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  4. I have always thought this, and it is nice to see some research to back it up. Students that have high expectations are the ones that actually want to have a bright future. Even if they do not reach their goals, they will have the right attitude to keep trying and reach for something positive. Every young person should dream beyond their reach. It allows for them to have a bigger perspective and broader outlook on life. Even if outcomes are not reached, students with high expectations will usually still do great things.

    Comment by Stephen — April 7, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

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