1. Home
  2. »
  3. College Resource Center
  4. »
  5. Building Classroom Confidence in College

Building Confidence as
a College Student Tips and Resources to Improve Your Academic Success

College can be academically challenging, and oftentimes, whether students have a strong sense of confidence can determine how well they tackle these challenges. As a result, it’s important for students to nurture a healthy sense of confidence in order to perform well in the classroom and get the most out of their college experience.

“Students with a healthy confidence take the opportunity to interact with professors in and outside of the classroom. This interaction is important for success in the particular class as well as in other areas,” explains Joseph Croskey, director of the Advising Services Center at Clarion University.

“Confident students develop relationships with faculty that can lead to participation in research and other developmental activities,” he says. “This leads further to possible future connections, letters of recommendation, internships, future work, or graduate school.” Croskey goes on to say, “Confident students also mitigate negative consequences of stressful situations like testing or public speaking. They are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities, which can help them increase their emotional intelligence and leadership skills.”

Meet the Experts

Joseph Croskey Director, University Advising Services Center, Clarion University
Kendrick Kenney Program Coordinator, Digital Media Production Program, Community College of Baltimore County

Written By: Kenya McCullum

Building Confidence as a College Student

Although many college students may equate confidence with only personal benefits, like being able to meet new friends or start romantic relationships, having confidence also goes a long way toward enjoying many benefits in the classroom. Croskey explains the impact of confidence on academic performance this way:

“When students are confident, they are more likely to do the work required to achieve a positive outcome. For instance, if I have the belief that ‘I can’t do math,’ then it is unlikely that I will spend the time needed to repeatedly practice math problems. A belief that the ability to learn is fixed, or that someone is ‘naturally good’ at some things and not others, is one mindset not particularly useful to good academic performance,” he says. “When students are confident, they will act decisively to achieve the outcomes they envision and find ways to overcome the inevitable obstacles that arise. They will seek support to overcome those obstacles.”

In addition, self-confidence can provide students with several qualities they need to be successful in school. According to Carol C. Kanar, author of “The Confident Student,” some of these traits include being motivated, flexible, persistent, committed, empathetic and future-oriented.

Challenges to Building Academic Confidence

Students can face several challenges to their academic self-confidence throughout their educational careers, but some of these hurdles can be traced all the way back to their family life as a child.

“Low socioeconomic status and an unstable home life can have a tremendous effect on student confidence. These are very complex issues that plague many students,” says Kendrick Kenney, program coordinator of the Digital Media Production Program at the Community College of Baltimore County and former full-time faculty member at Bowie State University. “However, confidence in these students can be built through comprehensive strategies. One is creating a balanced system that uses intrinsic and extrinsic motivational tactics. These tactics can promote a sense of team and community in a classroom setting.”

Another threat to self-esteem is childhood trauma. Being physically, emotionally or sexually abused can create feelings of guilt and worthlessness that may translate to poor academic performance. In addition, these students may develop anxiety and depression, which can make it even more difficult for them to achieve in the classroom.

Similarly, students who are the victim of bullying may also develop feelings of self-loathing that decreases their confidence. They may also feel hopeless in their situation, especially if they don’t get adequate support from their family or teachers, and these negative feelings may result in them disliking school altogether.

However, that doesn’t automatically mean that students who are not bullied by peers fare any better in terms of developing confidence in themselves. A student’s friend group can also cause a lack of confidence. Students who spend time with friends who tear them down, criticize them and pressure them to do things they don’t want to do can also find their confidence erode in ways that are detrimental to their classroom performance.

Low self-confidence can also stem from factors outside of students’ home or classroom experiences. For example, people may have their confidence threatened by the religion they practice if they feel they are unable to meet the standards set forth by their faith. This can result in self-loathing, guilt and shame, which can affect their performance inside and outside of the classroom. Also, the media can have a strong negative effect on self-confidence, especially when students are already struggling with their self-image. Regularly seeing ads that tell them they’re not good enough for various reasons — from their skin to their clothes to their weight — can chip away at students’ self-image and make them feel like they’re inferior.

Tips to Build Your Academic Confidence

While there are experiences that can threaten students’ confidence levels, that doesn’t mean students can’t do things to build their academic confidence now. The following are some strategies students can use to increase their confidence to help boost their college performance.

Reading

“Reading is number one and will always be number one in boosting confidence. Even as an adult, feeling well-read increases confidence going into almost any situation. This is no different for students,” said Kenney. “Reading doesn’t only make you feel more prepared, it creates a sense of achievement within itself. Starting a book and finishing it is similar to achieving a goal or successfully completing an academic assignment. That same sense of fulfillment carries over into the classroom.”

Collecting Proof

All students typically experience success throughout their educational career, but if they’re plagued with self-doubt, it may be difficult for those positive experiences to be at the forefront. By keeping a journal of all of their successes, students can easily access proof that they’re capable of doing well in their courses.

Getting Feedback

Professors can have a huge influence on how students feel about their academic performance, so actively seeking out feedback from instructors can help them feel better about how they’re doing. Feedback from professors can provide a clear picture of students’ strengths, which can help them feel good about themselves. In addition, students can gain an understanding of areas that they need to improve, and as they tackle these weaknesses, they can build more confidence.

Framing

“Framing is a cognitive way people respond or react to a particular situation depending on how it is presented to them. A fond memory I had in college was from a really tough economics course. I already knew it would test my abilities going in. However, on the first day of class, the professor addressed us by saying, ‘Everyone in this room has an A, and you have 16 weeks with me to maintain that A,’” Kenney says. “So rather than struggle through the course, I found it easier to maintain my A that I started the course with. I actually applied that technique to many courses thereafter. Now I realized he was simply providing his students with a sense of confidence. After all, it’s easier to convince someone to maintain their position on top of the mountain than climb up from the bottom.”

Preparing for Class

Whenever a teacher asks a question and students raise their hands because they know the answer, they’re building confidence in their knowledge of the coursework. In order to do this, they need to make sure they are prepared for each and every class session so they know they’ll never feel the embarrassment of being asked a question they don’t have the answer to.

Increasing Self-Awareness

“Journaling is a useful way to write your way to confidence,” Croskey says. “This can be assisted by visualizing yourself confidently in specific situations, creating personal affirmations and finding other ways to develop internal motivation and autonomy. Students can journal about their attitude towards college, towards instructors, towards the subject and towards themselves as a learner.”

Brain Dumping

When students have doubts about whether or not they’re actually learning their class material, they can do this exercise, which involves writing down everything they just learned on a piece of paper. This can help them actually see they have been learning. Also, committing what they know to paper can help students organize their thoughts in ways that help them understand complicated concepts and further increase their academic confidence.

Rewarding Good Grades

Whenever students get a good grade on an assignment or test, they can find ways to reward their achievements to help cement in their minds that they’re capable of academic success. Whether students treat themselves to their favorite food, take a night off to veg out and watch television, or buy a new piece of clothing, these treats provide incentives to continue doing well.

Expert Q&A: How to Maintain Academic Confidence

To explore the importance of confidence for college students, we gathered the opinions of the following experts:

What is the relationship between confidence and academic performance? How can having confidence help students get good grades?

Kenney: Confidence is a measure of one’s belief in one’s own abilities, so naturally, many scholars and researchers agree that there is a correlation between academic achievement and confidence. There are a few main factors to point out. Confidence is a cognitive motivational process, meaning if a student sets a goal and feels like the goal is obtainable, they are more likely to accomplish it successfully. In an academic setting, confidence must be viewed as a muscle and has to be practiced and reinforced.

What is healthy confidence? How does healthy confidence manifest itself among students?

Croskey: A positive self-confidence is useful towards achieving optimal outcomes in a variety of settings. Research has found that self-efficacy and confidence, or the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and successfully complete a task, are tied in important ways to a student’s academic identity, aspirations, motivation, achievement and ultimately persistence. Healthy self-confidence has a powerful role in a student’s proclivity and ability to succeed. Students possessing strong self-efficacy can learn to develop positive learning habits, such as deeper thinking and more willingness to take on challenging tasks.

Kenney: Healthy confidence is when students not only believe in themselves, but they believe in the educational process. When students are confident in themselves, as well as their classroom environment, even when they face an obstacle, they will be more determined to fill in the learning gaps that every student will face at some point during their educational journey.

What is unhealthy confidence? What are the consequences of having unhealthy confidence?

Kenney: Many times, self-esteem can be confused with confidence when, in fact, there are certain self-esteem characteristics that can lead to unhealthy confidence. Things like arrogance and narcissism could lead to classroom roadblocks.

Croskey: First, let’s address a lack of confidence. Lack of confidence is connected to self-protective avoidance strategies that prevent full commitment and lead to attrition and poor performance. Other types of unhealthy confidence can lead to narcissistic behaviors. This desperate need to defend a grandiose self-image can lead to aggression, low grades and poor adaptation to college.

What are some things that threaten students’ confidence? How can these problems be remedied?

Croskey: There are a host of external factors that can threaten students’ confidence. For example, parental influence and teachers and counselors can influence the students’ academic identity. In addition, dominant cultural narratives and consistently low expectations of certain groups of students, like students from low socioeconomic backgrounds or students of color, can impact confidence. Stereotype threat is a problem, but it can be remedied.

What help can students get from their school if they’re struggling with academic confidence?

Croskey: Schools can provide several services to assist students. Services include academic skill building courses, workshops, and/or courses and workshops that teach students about the university and services available. Many schools offer inquiry seminars or first- and second-year experience courses. Schools also offer tutoring, peer mentors, counseling, living learning communities and more to support students. Students can search for academic support departments dedicated to student success. They can contact their professor, advisor, community/resident assistant or other staff on campus to find the appropriate support. There are workshops addressing effective time management, stress management, self-efficacy, metacognition, the difference between studying and learning, and other issues to support students.

In smaller, more intimate class settings, how can students combat the self-doubt they may feel when interacting with other students?

Kenney: Small classrooms can be intimidating. However, overall, they provide great benefit. Even the student who suffers from self-doubt will simply be in a better position to combat these feelings in a small classroom setting because of a few factors. Smaller classrooms allow the teacher to tailor lessons to student learning styles. It also allows the teacher to have more one-on-one contact with the student. Lastly, it allows immediate feedback and more reteaching opportunities. These are critical because it’s all about filling the academic gaps. For example, I may struggle on a unit that my peers do not, and the teacher will have more time to help me fill in the gaps. In turn, I will catch up. In the next unit, my classmate may struggle and require extra attention to catch up. In the end, everyone gets an opportunity to fill in the gaps. The final step is to create peer learning groups so not only am I working with the teacher, I can help my classmate fill in gaps and they are able to do the same for me, which builds confidence for both students.

Croskey: One first step to take when feeling anxious is to take a deep breath or three (count to 10 or 50 if necessary). Pausing to breathe deeply activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. They can get to know other students in the class by interacting with them on a one-to-one basis.

Getting Help on Campus

Students who need extra help building their confidence can find several resources on campus to help them feel better about their academic performance. Below are examples of some places where college students may be able to get assistance.

  • “I think the best way for students to gain confidence is through peer learning groups. It reinforces learning when students have an opportunity to teach and learn from each other. It also boosts confidence because students often share similar social discourse, which enhances the learning environment,” Kenney says. “I distinctly remember as a student staying after school and forming a peer group. Memories of this peer group and how it helped me in areas in which I struggled still remain with me today.”

  • Students who are struggling with issues from their past that may have affected their confidence, as well as caused them to develop anxiety or depression, can get the help they need from the counseling center at their school. During the counseling process, they may learn information about how their negative thoughts and feelings have impacted their confidence as well as develop skills that will help them stop criticizing themselves and replace their negative thoughts and self-talk with healthier messages.

  • Academic clubs allow students to connect with others who share their interests and to spend time immersed in work they enjoy. Also, students may be able to develop their knowledge and skills in ways that can benefit them inside and outside of the classroom.

  • Students who have disabilities may have low confidence levels because of their condition. However, by getting the extra help that their school provides, they can improve their academic performance and confidence by mitigating some of the daily challenges they may face. Services for students with disabilities may include sign language interpreters, access to adapted computers, testing and classroom accommodations, reading materials in alternate formats and peer notetakers.

  • Getting tutoring on campus can help students get individualized help in the academic areas they need to improve on. Tutors can help students understand course content that is unclear, develop strategies for tackling tests and assignments, and learn how to manage their time. As students become better in their challenging classes, they will become more and more confident.

Additional Resources