Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Marci Culley, Ph.D. - Chair

Second Advisor

Gregory Jurkovic, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Lisa Armistead, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Christopher Henrich, Ph.D.


Pathways to becoming a college student are as numbered and varied as college students themselves. For some people, the pathway to college is marked by barriers, such as negative messages received by the student regarding their abilities to attend college and/or the likelihood that they will get to attend college. On one hand, research suggests that children and adolescents internalize these negative messages, which then have the potential to block achievement in higher education. On the other hand, the general body of resilience research suggests that youth can overcome challenges and defy negative influences, as did the participants of the current study. However, little is known about this process of achievement in the face of negative predictions. Consequently, the current study used qualitative grounded theory methodology to explore the experience of defying negative messages received about becoming a college student. In unstructured interviews, fourteen undergraduate students described their experience of receiving negative messages about their abilities to attend college or the likelihood that they would get to attend college, as well as their subsequent experience of becoming college students in the face of these messages. Based on the literature regarding resilience, negative prediction defiance, and the effects of expectations on academic competence, an ecological model of overcoming negative messages was proposed in which micro, meso, and macrosystemic influences were hypothesized to play a role in encouraging or discouraging college attendance. Although participants came from diverse demographic backgrounds and experienced varied types of negative messages, all of their narratives shared major components, which comprise the theory proposed in the current study. These components are sources of negative messages, perceived underlying influences on sources, reasons to defy the message, facilitators of defiance, and barriers to defiance. This theory was compared to existing theories regarding resilience, negative prediction defiance, and the effects of expectations on academic competence. Additionally, research and policy implications are discussed that highlight the importance of providing youth who may be at-risk to receive negative messages with support in their families, schools, and communities.


Included in

Psychology Commons