Why Hopefulness Is a Greater Predictor of Academic Success than Intelligence

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U.S. Naval Academy graduates throw their hats in the air during graduation ceremonies at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This article is part of the Hope and Optimism initiative which explores the theoretical, empirical, and practical dimensions of hope, optimism, and related states.

Succeeding at school or university is about more than memorizing vast amounts of information and impressing professors with ingenious ideas. A growing body of scientific investigation now supports the conclusion that being hopeful has a distinctly positive effect on academic performance.

One paper from the University of Kansas looked at how the presence of hope boosted college achievement over a 6-year period, finding that ‘high-hope’ students had higher GPAs, and were more likely to graduate than ‘low-hope’ students.

A separate 3-year study by a team of British researchers has shown that hope is not only related to academic success, but is a greater predictor of success than intelligence tests, personality, or whether individuals previously did well in academic environments.

But what is hope? Recent studies have based their definition on positive psychologist Rick Snyder’s theory developed in the 1990s. Snyder saw hope as a “cognitive process allowing individuals to plan for and execute the pursuit of goals.”

Snyder’s separate “hope theory” offers more insight on the concept of hope.

Students studying
Students studying

Students study with their laptop computers in the Pedagogical Library at the Freie Universitaet university on September 20, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In a 1991 paper, Snyder outlined his theory as “a cognitive set that is based on a reciprocally-derived sense of successful agency (goal-directed determination) and pathways (planning to meet goals)”. In other words, it is essential for hope that a person feels he or she has agency — an ability…

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