The College Transition Collaborative (CTC) brings together pioneering social psychologists, education researchers and higher education practitioners to create learning environments that produce more equitable higher education outcomes. The CTC conducts applied research to generate scientifically proven approaches that place the student experience at the center of student success initiatives, and convey to all students they are valued, respected, and can excel. The CTC shares its findings and interventions widely to maximize impact for students. All CTC interventions and approaches are designed and tested for implementation in diverse college settings.


Collaborators and advisers:

  • Christopher Hulleman
  • Carol Dweck
  • Geoff Cohen
  • Dave Paunesku
  • Hazel Markus, Stanford University
  • Judy Harackiewicz, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Steven Spencer, Ohio State University
  • Christopher Luk, University of Waterloo
  • Dustin Thoman, San Diego State University
  • Elise Ozier, Indiana University
  • Eric Smith, Stanford University
  • Evelyn Carter, UCLA
  • Gregg Muragishi, Stanford
  • Heidi Williams, Indiana University
  • Katie Boucher, University of Indianapolis
  • Katie Kroeper, Indiana University
  • Kaitlin Mathias, University of Waterloo
  • Lisel Murdock-Perriera, Stanford University
  • Madison Gilbertson, Stanford University
  • Maithreyi Gopalan, Stanford University
  • Melanie Netter, UT Austin
  • Omid Fotuhi, Stanford University
  • Shahana Ansari, Indiana University
  • Shannon Brady, Stanford University
  • Stephanie Reeves, Ohio State University
  • Susie Chen, University of Pittsburgh

Along with funding from the Raikes Foundation, initial funding for the CTC comes from contributions from its partner colleges and universities.

Primary Research Questions

  • How effective overall is a standardized belonging intervention in improving outcomes among under-represented and first generation students in a diverse array of college settings?
  • Are belonging interventions that have been customized for individual colleges more effective than the standardized intervention?
  • Which intervention is most effective in which kinds of college settings?
  • How can universities reduce the stigma and shame felt by students who are placed on academic probation and improve academic outcomes for these students?

Why It’s Important

Enhancing the college experience, improving achievement, and reducing dropout rates is critical, particularly among under-represented groups in higher education. Mindset interventions can help students in the transition to college. But it is essential to learn how effective these interventions are in diverse college settings. Mindset interventions are powerful only when they directly speak to students’ worries about the transition to college and help them respond to challenges they face. As a consequence, mindset programs may be more or less effective in different contexts. They may also need to adapted or customized for new settings to be most effective.

The CTC’s two current projects are outlined below.

  • The Social Belonging Project: CTC researchers developed online exercises that equip new students to anticipate and respond productively to common academic and social challenges they are likely to encounter in the transition to college, rather than interpreting that these difficulties signal an overall lack of belonging or potential to succeed. The exercises have caused significant improvements in retention and GPA, particularly for students of color and first-generation college students. Currently, these exercises are being evaluated at 23 colleges. 
  • Student Academic Standing Success project: CTC researchers are working with college administrators to reduce the stigma and shame felt by students who are placed on academic probation, increasing students’ engagement with school resources and improving academic outcomes. Preliminary results found that subtle changes to the wording of probation notification letters led to a decrease in student-reported feelings of shame and stigma and an increase in students’ intentions to attend class, reach out to advisors, and stay enrolled in the university. The CTC is now working with 6 additional schools to explore ways to improve academic probation outcomes. 

Social Belonging Study Design

This study is a double blind randomized control trial—the “gold standard” in scientific research. One-third of all entering freshmen will receive information about the transition to college. One-third will receive the standard belonging intervention, and another third will receive a belonging intervention that has been customized for their college based on input from student focus groups and surveys. Because they are randomly assigned, the three groups should be identical in all characteristics. This means that any difference observed in outcomes between the treatment and control groups can be attributed to the program itself. Analyses will compare course grades, pass rates, and continued enrollment.


All incoming freshmen at 23 partner schools (~ 40,000 incoming students). Current partners include selective private institutions, mid-sized to large public universities of varying degrees of selectivity, and liberal arts colleges.

What This Study Can Tell Us

This study will tell us whether standardized or custom-tailored belonging interventions are more effective during the transition to college, and how these interventions affect under-represented students’ educational outcomes in settings as varied as a small liberal arts school or large research university.

Learn more about CTC Findings

Mindset Programs that Forecast Common Challenges Prior to the Transition of College Can Reduce Achievement Gaps

This Research Brief summarizes the findings from three studies that explore whether online programs delivered before college can effectively prepare students for challenges they may face during the transition to college.