Most students think they're above average

College students are more confident about their intellectual and social skills than in the past, according to a UCLA  survey of first-year students. They’re overconfident, San Diego State Psychology Professor Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, tells AP.

A larger percentage of incoming college freshmen rated themselves as “above average’’ in several categories compared with college freshmen surveyed in the 1960s, observes Twenge’s study, which is published in Self and Identity, a British journal.

When it came to social self-confidence, about half of freshmen questioned in 2009 said they were above average, compared with fewer than a third in 1966. Meanwhile, 60 percent in 2009 rated their intellectual self-confidence as above average, compared with 39 percent in 1966, the first year the survey was given.

In the study, the authors also assert that intellectual confidence may have been bolstered by grade inflation, noting that in 1966, only 19 percent of college students who were surveyed earned an A or A-minus average in high school, compared with 48 percent in 2009.

“So students might be more likely to think they’re superior because they have been given better grades,’’ Twenge says.

Others see little change in young people over the years or argue that increased confidence can be a positive.

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  1. I’d like to see these same freshman asked about their intellectual confidence after at the end of the year. When I was a student advisor in the University of MD I has several overly confident freshman with A, B+ averages who couldn’t pass a class. They didn’t know how to take notes or study. They were stunned that due dates were final and that there was no extra credit.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Nothing wrong with confidence, I suppose, except that from this and the associated article, I can’t really tell what the hell is going on with this “study”. Until I see the actual questions, I’m reserving judgment. We can tell that there’s a change in the attitudes of incoming freshmen, that is, that there’s a change in how they are answering the question. But we but we cannot tell whether this change is for the better or worse (if either) until we see the questions, and in any event, we can’t really know if students today are reading the question differently than students in 1966. Do they mean “social self-confidence” in the same way?

    And although the implication, at least of the blog post, is that they can’t all be above average, for all I know, just to use the example provided, incoming freshmen really are mostly above-average in their social self-confidence. It all depends on what group is being used for comparison, and for that I’d either need to see the questions, or know what each individual student was thinking, if the questions aren’t precise.

    I was a solidly “above average” student compared to my classmates in law school (at least as measured in terms of our grading curve) but I’m way “below average” of a student compared to my classmates in graduate school (again, as measured by our grades). By the same measure, I was “below average” compared to my college classmates, but slightly “above average” compared to my high school classmates. And that’s just in terms of grades; there’s more than one way to decide if one is an “above average” student or not.

    If you asked me on a survey, I wouldn’t know how to respond unless you told me exactly what you meant. The same goes not just for being a student, but for social self-confidence, ability to make jokes, and pretty much anything else you can think of by which I might be compared to other people favourably or unfavourably: I just won’t know unless I have the relevant comparison set, and my answers won’t be useful to you unless you know what I’m thinking of when I answer the question.

  3. Did the researchers control for the marked increase in selectivity at many colleges in recent years? I’m not sure I would’ve gotten accepted to my alma mater if I were applying today, and my dad definitely didn’t have the same kind of qualifications as today’s students at his Ivy alma mater.

  4. Cranberry says:

    Crimsonwife, if 2 1/2 times as many students are receiving A averages in high school, I take “greater selectivity” with a grain of salt. If high school students we graded on a curve, 48 % should reach C territory (the high point of the bell curve, the grade awarded to average work.)

    Did the study correct for mainstreaming, the effect of IDEA, and state mandates, on the composition of K-12 classrooms? (Probably not.) If it didn’t take the huge changes in education into account, then the students’ opinions seem delusional. It could well be, however, that the students who managed to make it to college were “above average” in high school.

  5. SuperSub says:

    We recently had our 7th grade awards ceremony. It began with announcing the names of students who were on the honor roll(85+) or high honor roll (95+) the entire year. The guidance counselor that was announcing the names remarked on the ability of the class since ~60% of the students made the list.
    Right after I turned to a fellow teacher and noted that it wasn’t the students’ ability, but instead grade inflation. For my part, I could count with one hand the number of my students that made the list…

  6. Forty eight percent of high school students have an A or A- average in high school?

    You’re doing it wrong.

  7. No, I’m not talking about grade inflation but actual increases in selectivity as measured by SAT scores (adjusted for the re-centering in the ’90’s), the percentage who were ranked #1 or #2 in their class, etc. I know kids who had stronger qualifications than me but who got rejected from schools to which I was accepted. It seems these days a kid needs to be an academic “rock star” in a way that wasn’t necessary 15 years ago when I applied (much less 40 years ago when my dad applied).

  8. SuperSub says:

    Crimson –
    A large part of the increased selectivity is the difference in how applicants are evaluated. Academics used to be king in the evaluation process, but now schools are looking to build ‘diverse’ student bodies that fit the numerous non-academic missions of the school. I knew of plenty of individuals who, in all honesty, were not at my level academically but we admitted to an Ivy that waitlisted me. One was the son of a diplomat, another a top-ranked junior ice-skater, another was an adopted orphan, and another a child who grew up in poverty and whose father was in jail. All were minority or mixed-race.
    Me? A white middle class teen who grew up in the suburbs, played sports after school and was a Boy Scout. Even with a much higher SAT score, being ranked near the top of my class, and lots of other extracurriculars and volunteer experience, I just didn’t fit the needs of the school.
    Colleges and universities used to seek to maximize the potential of their individual students…now they’re seeking to shape society by selecting it’s future leaders.

  9. Sean Mays says:

    Last year at high school graduation, one local high school awarded “valedictory” status on 8% of the graduating class. The newspaper denoted with an * those valedictorians who graduated in the top 5% of the class. Last time the honor roll was published for my local middle school, I compared the honors and high honors numbers, they were darn near equal to the fraction scoring above basic on the state high stakes test. C is a penalty grade now, has been for some time.