Self-Determination: Preparing for College Success

Self-determination (i.e., the ability to make choices, solve problems, set goals, evaluate options, take initiative to reach your goals, and accept consequences of your actions [Rowe et al., 2015]), is an important skill for every college student. Research suggests that self-determined students are more academically successful and engaged in coursework, contribute more actively to their educational paths, experience more successful postsecondary outcomes, and report an overall higher quality of life and success in early adulthood. At Virtual Hall, it is our mission to support our students to build all of these skills, manage input from all of the important stakeholders around them, and make informed decisions about what they want from their lives..

The Functional Theory of Self-Determination (Shogren, 2013; Wehmeyer 2001, 2006) suggests that self-determined individuals all share three powerful composite elements:

  1. Volitional Actions: students who are self-determined are purposeful and act as causal agents over their own lives;
  2. Causal Agency: students are self-determining when they act with the intent of causing the things they want to happen in their lives; and
  3. Quality of Life: key domains of quality of life for self-determined individuals include emotional well-being, physical well-being, material well-being, interpersonal relations, personal development, social inclusion, and individual rights.

Acquiring these ingredients of a self-determined life isn’t something that happens overnight, and we recognize that our students don’t just “become” self-determined. This is a process that needs to be taught, and by teaching the following skills, we can prepare our students to take continued steps toward becoming increasingly self-determined:

  • Choice making: identifying a preference and making an active choice (e.g., lifestyle choices, choices about education options, and choices about employment);
  • Decision making: listing relevant action alternatives, identifying possible consequences, assessing the probability of each consequence, establishing the relative importance of each consequence, and identifying the most attractive course of action;
  • Problem solving: using available information to identify and design solutions to problems (e.g., communication with others, making judgments, and managing money);
  • Goal setting and attainment: identifying the goal, creating an action plan, and making necessary adjustments to the goal (e.g., the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction);
  • Self-management: evaluating whether or not one is taking actions aligned with their self-selected goals and making necessary adjustments when required;
  • Self-advocacy: standing up for oneself and advocating on one’s own behalf (e.g., expression of rights, verbal and nonverbal assertion skills, and conversation skills); 
  • Self-awareness: demonstrating awareness of one’s strengths, interests, and areas in which they benefit from support from others;
  • Self-knowledge: using knowledge of oneself to set goals and take action toward achieving those goals.

At Virtual Hall, we know that our students come to us with varying levels of skill in each of these areas, and that we must meet them where they are. By teaching the above skills and using Evidence-Based Strategies such as Collaborative Problem Solving and Motivational Interviewing we can support our students to set goals, overcome barriers, and increase their capacity for self-determination. We also recognize that this is a dynamic process, and we encourage our students to incorporate input from their friends, family, colleagues, and other important stakeholders in their lives when making these decisions. We believe that everyone deserves the life that they want, and we make sure our students have the tools, strategies, and skills they need to make this happen.