The perceived causes of success in academic learning play a decisive role in students’ goals, behaviours and emotional reactions towards similar situations in the future. The purpose of this study was to identify the perceived causes of academic achievement in the transition to higher education and to relate them to the academic outcomes.
The participants, 204 college students, were asked to rate the importance of a list of attributions to their academic outcomes. Those ratings were related to a measure of academic success.
The results of this study showed that, on average, students attribute academic success predominantly to internal and controllable causes, with higher means for hard work, determination, persistence, self-regulation and commitment to achieving goals. These attributions are adaptive, focusing mainly on agency and control of one’s own outcomes. At the lower extreme are external and uncontrollable attributions, such as luck, family resources and help from colleagues. Interestingly, students’ academic success was rarely attributed to intelligence or intellectual capabilities, which are internal, stable but uncontrollable attributions, suggesting that students see their academic achievement as relying on factors over which they can exert control (hard work, determination, persistence or self-regulation of learning processes).
These results are very promising as they suggest the importance of a psychological variable – attributions to success – that can be a target of intervention activities, contributing to enhancing self-regulatory processes in students coping with the transition to higher education.