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Higher Education, College, Non-cognitive Skills, Expectations, Business, Engineering


Attending college is a significant human capital investment but only about 56% of those who start college will have a completed degree 6 years later. This makes identifying which skills are associated with college success an important policy concern. We surveyed over 1,100 entering college freshmen, majoring in business and engineering at a public university in the US, and combined this information with administrative data to create a comprehensive data set that, in addition to the usual academic performance data, cognitive ability measures, and demographics, also included measures of non-cognitive skills, personality traits, and student expectations about college success. With this information we analyzed if students’ subjective expectations about their future success in college were related to non-cognitive skills and whether they are realistic, as compared to student’s performance trajectory at the end of their first year in college. Moreover, we compared student’s academic progress at the end of the first year with what would be objectively expected for them, given their background and preparation at entrance. We identify students performing below and above objective expectations and study noncognitive skills related to their objective performance. We find that non-cognitive skills are associated with academic subjective expectations of college success and objective performance in college, even after controlling for cognitive ability and time spent studying, but the relationship between specific non-cognitive skills, academic subjective expectations and academic objective performance varies across disciplines.