Build Students' Self-Efficacy for College and Career Success

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How teachers can build self-efficacy in the classroom with dual-enrollment programs

Being prepared for college and beyond is an essential ingredient for students’ personal and professional success. It requires not only academic readiness but soft skills, such as time management, effective communication, critical thinking, and adaptability.

However, guidance counselors, teachers, and school administrators are concerned that many high school students don’t yet have the self-efficacy necessary to succeed in college. In fact, a recent national Savvas survey of nearly 400 educators and school administrators showed that 85 percent of respondents reported that instilling students with the self-efficacy and ownership needed for college is a significant challenge, and 80 percent reported that instilling students with the soft skills needed for college is challenging.

Knowing this, how can educators help students spark self-efficacy, which will better prepare them for college and their future careers? Let’s take a look at the tactics educators can use to inspire self-efficacy in students.

What Is Self-Efficacy and Why Is It Important?

Simply put, self-efficacy is the belief in your ability to achieve goals. Students with high self-efficacy take on challenging tasks, stay motivated, work hard, and bounce back from setbacks. They view failures as a manageable part of the learning process, which helps them succeed in college and their careers. Conversely, students with low self-efficacy doubt their abilities, avoid challenges, and put in less effort, leading to poorer academic performance.

Self-efficacy comes from four main sources:

  • Mastery Experiences. These are personal experiences of success that build students’ confidence. They’re considered the most influential source of self-efficacy because they provide direct evidence of students’ ability to succeed.
  • Vicarious Experiences. This happens when students see peers succeed, which boosts confidence in their own abilities.
  • Verbal Persuasion. When teachers give positive feedback and encouragement, they motivate students to give their best efforts, which enhances students’ sense of self-efficacy.
  • Emotional State. Emotional stimulation, such as a positive mood, can contribute to strong performances that improve self-efficacy. Teachers can reduce stressful situations and lower anxiety around exams or presentations to help students manage stress and maintain an upbeat outlook.

How to Encourage Self-Efficacy in the Classroom

When teachers create a learning environment that supports and believes in each student's abilities, they help students build the confidence they need to tackle challenges in the classroom — and beyond.

Here are a few of the most effective strategies for nurturing self-efficacy in the classroom:

  • Peer Coaching. This collaborative approach involves pairing students to share knowledge, such as solving math problems together, peer-editing essays, conducting science experiments in pairs, or practicing language conversations. When students can explain something to a peer and see them succeed, it reinforces their own grasp of the topic. Plus, getting feedback and encouragement from someone like themself creates a supportive environment where everyone feels empowered to thrive.
  • The Power of “Yet”. When you add the word "yet" to statements, you can help students transform their mindset from “I can't do this” to “I can't do this — yet.” It’s a gentle reminder that just because they can’t do something now doesn’t mean they won’t be able to do it in the future. This simple shift encourages a growth mindset, inspires perseverance and resilience, and helps students see challenges as temporary hurdles rather than insurmountable obstacles.
  • Opportunities for Mastery Experiences. In high school, mastering subjects and tasks is key to preparing for college. When students tackle challenges and succeed, they gain the confidence and skills that set them up for success in higher education and beyond. These experiences teach them how to navigate tough academic demands and build the belief that they can handle whatever comes their way. By actively engaging in learning and achieving mastery, students not only learn the material but also develop the resilience and self-assurance needed to thrive in college and their future careers.

Dual Enrollment and Self-Efficacy

Dual-enrollment courses expose high school students to college-level academics, giving them an opportunity to succeed in a mastery experience that can build their self-efficacy. These courses provide students with a rigorous yet supportive academic environment where they can engage with complex material, develop critical thinking skills, and achieve measurable success.

To address the gap in students’ self-efficacy, many superintendents and high school leaders are seeking dual-enrollment opportunities to ensure students are ready for college and beyond. They say there’s no better way to prepare students for college than to bring college to them in high school.

“When students earn college credits in high school, it really builds self-efficacy and the confidence that they belong in college,” said Dr. Sarah Cherry Rice, executive director and founder of Digital Ready, a Boston-based organization helping high school students build their own pathways to economic mobility and success in Boston’s innovation economy. Students spend time on college campuses to become familiar with the college experience and take dual-enrollment courses to complete 30 college credits before graduation.

Augustine Preparatory Academy in Milwaukee tapped Outlier for its high-quality, turnkey, online college-level courses that allowed their students to earn dual credit without leaving their school building.

“We explored dual-enrollment programs because we really want to prepare students for what they're going to experience outside of Aug Prep. I think Outlier gives them a really good taste of the independence of college and the rigor they can expect when they get there,” said Jack Wallace, high school principal at Augustine Preparatory Academy.

Wallace said Outlier's dual-enrollment program helped students face challenges similar to what they’ll see in college courses, helping them build confidence and feel successful. “This was a big challenge for kids. We knew it was pretty rigorous, and a lot of the work needed to be independent. But the kids did a really, really nice job. And the teachers overseeing those programs did a really good job investing the students in the content and tracking the students along the way,” Wallace said.

With Outlier, Augustine Preparatory Academy is able to give their students a top-notch education that gives them the self-efficacy skills that prepare them for life after high school. “It gives us the ability to differentiate courses for kids so they can truly get an experience that’s going to push them, grow them, and prepare them for college,” explained Wallace.

By mastering the content and navigating the demands of Outlier's dual-enrollment courses, students build a solid foundation of knowledge and skills that boost their confidence in their ability to tackle future college courses. Students develop a growth mindset, positive attitude, and stronger belief in their academic abilities, enhancing the likelihood of success in college and beyond.