The College Transition Collaborative

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. We believe that all post-secondary students are capable of thriving in college and graduating with the right institutional supports. Our work aims to ensure that all students feel valued, respected, and like they can excel.

Millions of students begin college each year but ultimately do not graduate.
The College Transition Collaborative wants to change this.

CTC partners with colleges and universities to develop scientifically proven approaches that place the student experience at the center of institutional programs and practices. Although almost every student struggles sometimes in college, students who have been targeted by negative stereotypes throughout their life may experience challenges—such as a low grade on an exam or difficulty making friends—as yet another sign they do not belong or can't succeed. As a result, they may withdraw academically and socially. Our work helps schools better understand how their students experience moments of transition or difficulty, and how psychologically-informed practices can convey to all students they are valued, respected, and can excel.

CTC’s work has helped support greater engagement, achievement, and completion for students at diverse colleges and universities across the United States.

Our Work

Rigorous R&D

We select areas of research based on school and student needs, ground our work in scientific theory, and rigorously assess everything we create across diverse contexts.

Collaborative Partnerships

We partner with researchers, administrators, educators, and practitioners across the higher education community to ensure the greatest potential for positive student impact.

Accessible Resources

We create evidence-based, cost-effective, and user-friendly tools and resources supporting practitioners to implement more psychologically attuned practices across the college journey.

Our Approach

Scientists have demonstrated that well-designed learning environments can have lasting effects on how students make meaning of events and respond to difficulties. When students feel like their school believes in them and provides a clear path to success, they are more likely to participate in class, attend office hours, join student groups, seek mentors, and make use of resources provided by their institution that may otherwise be underutilized.

Colleges have a powerful opportunity to support student achievement by ensuring that the messages, policies, programs, and practices students encounter throughout their college journey are informed by an understanding of how students make meaning of their experiences – i.e., students’ “psychological experience” of college. Learning environments attuned to students’ experiences, beliefs, and concerns can help students make sense of challenges and transitions in ways that bolster academic performance and foster well-being. This is especially critical for students who have been targeted by negative stereotypes throughout their life, and may reasonably experience challenges–such as a low grade on an exam, difficulty registering for courses, difficulty making friends, or being placed on academic probation–as yet another sign that they do not belong or can’t succeed.

Examples of Opportunities to Support Students' Psychological Experience Throughout College

  • Before College

    Do admissions messages convey to students that diverse students are valued on campus and that students can grow to belong in the college community and succeed?

  • Transition Into College

    Do welcome messages communicate that diverse kinds of students belong? Do messages around placement tests lead students to feel like they can succeed?

    CTC Project: Social-Belonging

  • "Sophomore Slump"

    How do gateway courses impact students' feelings of belonging or academic potential?

  • Throughout College

    How can schools help to foster positive intergroup relationships? How can schools foster the development of more diverse social networks?

  • Points of Difficulty

    Do communications about remedial coursework lead students to feel "dumb"? Do communications about academic setbacks communicate that faculty and the college care about their success and believe they can improve? Do communications about discipline infractions lead students feel like they don’t belong in college or can’t succeed?

    CTC Project: Academic Standing

  • Transition Out of College

    Do messages from career centers help students identify normal challenges in navigating the job market post college and finding a career path? Do messages about financial aid in and after college communicate warmth and support to low-income students?

Current Research



Even with identical high school credentials, students from under-represented backgrounds drop out of college at higher rates and earn worse grades than their peers. Research suggests that this disparity is partly attributable to students' concerns about fitting in at college. Importantly, research also suggests that brief, targeted efforts can mitigate these concerns. The CTC is conducting ongoing research to understand how effective such efforts can be for different student groups in varied academic settings. In our current multi-site field trial, we are working with administrators and students at 23 institutions to customize an intervention designed to cultivate a sense of social belonging and test it with over 40,000 first-year students.

Our Impact

Selected Results from Recent Trials:
Outcomes for Students of Color and First-Generation Students
  • +4 percentage points in first-year, full-time enrollment for students at a large, public university
  • +.09 in cumulative first-year GPA for students at a selective private university
percentage point increase
Full-Time 1Y Enrollment
Large Public University
GPA point
Cumulative 1Y GPA
Selective Private University

Academic Standing

Academic Standing

Almost all colleges and universities have processes to identify and support students who are struggling and at risk of dropping out. While probation is meant to help students get back on track, little research exists on how students experience probation and how effective different approaches are. Early findings suggest that many students on probation do not return to good standing or go on to receive their degree. In addition to conducting a descriptive study of probation practices across the country, the CTC is currently working with six school partners and over 10,000 students to learn more about student perspectives and evaluate how targeted revisions to the probation process can improve student outcomes.

Our Impact

Preliminary Results from Current Study:
Impact of Revisions to Probation Notification Letter
  • Decrease in feelings of shame, stigma, embarassment, and guilt across multiple schools
  • Decrease in likelihood to consider dropping out or skip class across multiple schools
Decrease in feelings of shame, stigma, embarassment, and guilt across multiple schools
Decrease in likelihood to consider dropping out or skip class across multiple schools

Are you interested in using the social-belonging materials at your school?

CTC is partnering with the Project for Education Research that Scales (PERTS) to make a standardized version of our social-belonging materials available for schools on a free, easy-to-use, online platform beginning in Summer 2017. To learn more, please visit the link below or contact us.

In the News

"Challenge to new president: Alleviate students’ anxiety"

Jeff Raikes
The Seattle Times
December 2016

"The Power of Realistic Expectations"

Ian Chipman
Insights by Stanford Business
September 2016

"Conquering the Freshman Fear of Failure"

David L. Kirp
The New York Times
August 2016

"A Small Fix in Mind-Set Can Keep Students in School"

Alison Gopnik
The Wall Street Journal
June 2016

"President Announces Over $240 Million in New STEM Commitments"

Office of the Press Secretary
The White House
March 2015

"Who Gets to Graduate?"

Paul Tough
New York Times
May 2014

CTC Team


Greg Walton, Associate Professor, Stanford University
Mary Murphy, Associate Professor, Indiana University
David Yeager, Assistant Professor, UT Austin
Christine Logel, Associate Professor, Renison University College, affil. University of Waterloo
Rob Urstein, Managing Director, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Chris Smith, CTC Executive Director


Amy Henderson, CTC Implementation Manager
Cassie Hartzog, CTC Senior Data Analyst
Chaghig Walker, CTC Project Coordinator
Connor Donegan, Support Statistican
Jen Coakley, CTC Research Coordinator
Kaitlin Mathias, CTC Research Coordinator
Kathy Emerson, Support Data Analyst
Krysti Ryan, CTC Implementation Manager
Manuel Galvan, CTC Research Coordinator
Mary Nowak, CTC Operations Manager
Parker Goyer, Support Data Analyst
Sara Woodruff, CTC Director of Research

Research Fellows

Elise Ozier, Graduate Student, Indiana University
Elizabeth Canning, Postdoctoral Researcher, Indiana University
Jennifer Lacosse, Postdoctoral Researcher, Indiana University
Kathryn Boucher, CTC Project PI- Student Experience Project; Assistant Professor, University of Indianapolis
Katie Kroeper, Graduate Student, Indiana University
Nicholas A Bowman, CTC Project PI- Student Experience Project; Professor, University of Iowa
Shannon Brady, CTC Project PI- Student Academic Standing Success Project; Assistant Professor, Wake Forest University


Carol Dweck, Professor, Stanford University
Geoff Cohen, Professor, Stanford University
Hazel Markus, Professor, Stanford University
Judy Harackiewicz, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Steven Spencer, Professor, University of Waterloo
Dave Paunesku, Executive Director, Stanford University PERTS

Research Affiliates

Chris Hulleman, Associate Professor, University of Virginia
Christopher Lok, Graduate Student, University of Waterloo
Dustin Thoman, Associate Professor, San Diego State University
Eric Gomez, Graduate Student, University of Washington
Eric Smith, Graduate Student, Stanford University
Evelyn Carter, Senior Consultant, Paradigm Strategy, Inc.
Gregg Muragishi, Graduate Student, Stanford University
Heidi Williams, Graduate Student, Indiana University
Joel Le Forestier, Graduate Student, University of Toronto
Lisel Murdock-Perriera, Graduate Student, Stanford University
Madison Gilbertson, Graduate Student, Fuller Theological Seminary
Maithreyi Gopalan, Assistant Professor, The Pennsylvania State University
Matthew O Wilmot, Graduate Student, The Ohio State University
Melanie Gonzalez, Graduate Student, University of Texas at Austin
Omid Fotuhi, Research Associate, University of Pittsburgh
Pete Fisher, Graduate Student, University of California, Los Angeles
Shahana Ansari, Graduate Student, University of Hawai’i at Manoa
Stephanie Reeves, PhD Candidate, The Ohio State University
Susie Chen, Graduate Student, University of Pittsburgh
Tsotso Ablorh, Graduate Student, University of Massachusetts – Boston

CTC Partners

Current and Former School Partners

Albion College Albion College
Allegheny College Allegheny College
Bowling Green Bowling Green State University
California State University, Dominguez Hills CSU Dominguez Hills
California State University, Northridge CSU Northridge
The College of Wooster The College of Wooster
Clemson University Clemson University
Cornell University Cornell University
Dartmouth College Dartmouth College
DePauw University DePauw University
Florida International University Florida International University
Great Lakes College Association Great Lakes College Association
Hope College Hope College
Kalamazoo College Kalamazoo College
Indiana State University Indiana State University
Indiana University Bloomington Indiana University Bloomington
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
Lewis & Clark College Lewis & Clark College
Loyola University New Orleans Loyola University New Orleans
Mastery Mastery Prep
Michigan State Michigan State University
Ohio Wesleyan University Ohio Wesleyan University
San Diego State University San Diego State University
Southern Oregon University Southern Oregon University
Stanford Stanford University
University of California, Santa Cruz UC Santa Cruz
University of Central Arkansas University of Central Arkansas
University of Illinois Chicago University of Illinois Chicago
University of Memphis University of Memphis
University of Pittsburgh University of Pittsburgh
University of Oregon University of Oregon
UT Austin University of Texas Austin
University of Waterloo University of Waterloo
Wabash College Wabash College
Yale University Yale University
Yes Prep Yes Prep

Partner Organizations

Mindset Scholars Network Mindset Scholars Network

Foundation Support

Raikes Foundation Raikes Foundation
Joyce Foundation Joyce Foundation
Ascendium Education Group Ascendium Education Group
Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
One of the things that’s really difficult when you’re on the ground in an institution is to do this work and know it’s working. To know what we’re doing has solid research behind it is priceless.
- CTC Partner