Pygmalion and Admission Counselling

As a mentor, our first task is to raise expectations of the mentee and their guardians, so that we kickstart the self-fulfilling prophecy of achievement. 

By The Acadru Team | Jan 11, 2021

The Pygmalion effect is the phenomenon whereby others' expectations of a target person affect the target person's performance.

A corollary of the Pygmalion effect is the golem effect, in which low expectations lead to a decrease in performance; both effects are forms of self-fulfilling prophecy.

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.

I am using these definitions from Wikipedia to highlight a significant effect that parents have on their wards. Actually, these definitions are good enough to highlight the effect our expectations can have on the achievements of our young adults.

Yet, the entire mentoring / admission counselling ecosystem relies on fear-mongering. The one thing you would hear is that “the student is not good enough”, “there is too much competition”, “these programs are extremely ‘selective’”, “till you almost kill yourself, you are not likely to get in”, “most of the kids today have done so much more than you”.. and on and on. This is the Golem effect at work and the result is not great either ways usually – if the person gets through, (s)he has a disproportionate sense of achievement which vanishes when (s)he meets other similar high-achiever students at the university, and if the person fails, (s)he loses self-confidence and that can lead to all kinds of mental troubles like depression.

I do not disagree with the fact that even the best institutions have limited resources compared to the demand and therefore, have to be exclusive in order to select the best-fit students and the competition is very high for every position. Globalization and prosperity have further enhanced the competition. A typical class in any of the top universities in the US would typically have students from more-than-a-dozen countries.

Yet, as a mentor, our first task is to raise expectations of the mentee and their guardians, so that we kickstart the self-fulfilling prophecy of achievement. And there are sufficient studies, the most famous being the Rosenthal-Jacobson study, that prove that setting higher expectations from some students and communicating that to the teachers, leads to better results for those students. The key element of these studies is the random selection of the “better” students. Just the label is enough!

The emphasis for all the well-wishers of the ward should be on the best-fit, rather than on the best institutions alone. Once that fit is established, it will help to encourage the ward to do better to achieve those institutions through crafting a unique personal story, rather than a me-too story. Giving the mentees the confidence to know that their story is as strong as anyone else’s and making them comfortable in their skin is our aim, and we have seen that these two elements have been the critical ingredients in them getting admissions in the colleges of their choice. Pygmalion effect is clearly at play here.