Be careful what you wish for : characteristics of college students’ academic goals, their daily effort, and emotional well-being




Seo, Eunjin

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Failing to meet personal academic goals in college, such as completing a final paper or finishing weekly reading materials, often results in poor performance, failing grades, or even class withdrawal. A great deal of research has established the benefits of setting goals for performance. Research has also suggested that self-concordance, utility value, difficulty, and specificity of goals influence the benefits of setting goals. To date, however, many of these goal characteristics have been independently examined outside of educational contexts (e.g., in work settings) and never tested simultaneously altogether. In addition, little work has examined how these different goal characteristics predict college students’ effort and well-being on a daily basis. As a result, researchers have overlooked the problem that students tend to overestimate their effort when it is measured across different days. I conducted this research to remedy this gap by investigating how various goal characteristics, including self-concordance, utility value, difficulty, and specificity, predict students' time spent toward their goals and emotional well-being during goal pursuit on a daily basis. Using both variable- and person-oriented analyses, I found two key elements that positively predicted students’ daily time spent toward their goals and emotional well-being: self-concordance and utility value. Goal difficulty and specificity did not statistically significantly predict college students’ time spent and emotional well-being. Furthermore, I also revealed the reciprocal relations among time spent and emotional experience. College students spent more time working toward their goals on the day they felt stronger emotions regardless of its valence. On the day students spent more time, they experienced heightened positive and negative emotions. The greater positive emotions, in turn, led students to reduce their time spent toward their goals on the next day. The finding emerged even after controlling for characteristics of goal pursuers (e.g., sex, race, prior GPA, self-control, social support, and readiness) as well as prior day’s effort and emotions. Through daily examinations of students' goal characteristics, effort, and emotions, I hope that this dissertation contributes to broadening the applicability of goal-relevant motivational theories to students' daily academic experiences and to educators' knowledge regarding effective goal practices.


LCSH Subject Headings