Media Releases

Online goal-setting raises university grades

April 20, 2010

TORONTO, ON – Online goal-set­ting helps strug­gling uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents raise their grades and stay in school, accord­ing to new psy­chol­o­gy research from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and St. Luke’s-Roo­sevelt Hos­pi­tal Cen­ter. 

“Twen­ty-five per cent of uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents who enrol in four-year uni­ver­si­ty pro­grams nev­er grad­u­ate,” says study lead Dominique Morisano. “This is unac­cept­able, giv­en the expense and impor­tance of a uni­ver­si­ty edu­ca­tion.” 

Jor­dan Peter­son and Jacob Hirsh of the Depart­ment of Psy­chol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and Morisano of The Child & Fam­i­ly Insti­tute of St. Luke’s-Roo­sevelt Hos­pi­tal Cen­ter in New York City devel­oped an online goal-set­ting pro­gram that helps indi­vid­u­als imag­ine their desired future three to five years down the road and to plan for that future. Stu­dents who com­plet­ed the goal-set­ting or “future author­ing” pro­gram raised their grade point aver­ages by 30 per cent, and were much less like­ly to drop cours­es or quit uni­ver­si­ty alto­geth­er. 

Study authors note that many fac­tors oth­er than sheer abil­i­ty hin­der aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance. 

“Stu­dents who lack clar­i­ty about their long-term goals tend to be much less moti­vat­ed,” says Peter­son. “Clear­ly defined and artic­u­lat­ed goals give peo­ple pur­pose and mean­ing, and pro­tect them from anx­i­ety and despair.” 

Morisano says the researchers, “want­ed to devel­op a pro­gram that was straight­for­ward, inex­pen­sive, and broad­ly avail­able.” 

Peter­son notes that stu­dents spend a lot of time absorb­ing facts, but very lit­tle time think­ing in a detailed, struc­tured man­ner about the nature and pur­pose of their indi­vid­ual lives. 

“In con­se­quence, for sev­er­al years, I have asked stu­dents in my class­es to write about their per­son­al past, present and future,” he says. “They find this process engag­ing, ben­e­fi­cial, and moti­vat­ing. Many stud­ies have indi­cat­ed that writ­ing about impor­tant events makes peo­ple more pro­duc­tive, hap­pi­er, less anx­ious, and, as Dr. James Pen­nebak­er has demon­strat­ed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas, phys­i­cal­ly health­i­er. We believe that every­one could ben­e­fit from such per­son­al writ­ing.”  

The online pro­grams can be pub­licly accessed at The study find­ings, fund­ed by UofT’s Desau­tels Cen­tre for Inte­gra­tive Think­ing, were pub­lished in the lat­est edi­tion of the Jour­nal of Applied Psy­chol­o­gy. 


For more infor­ma­tion please con­tact:

Jor­dan B. Peter­son
Pro­fes­sor, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Depart­ment of Psy­chol­o­gy
Office: 416 978 7619
Cell: 416 839 4291
Dominique Morisano, Ph.D., C.Psych.
Super­vis­ing Psychologist/Research Liai­son
The Child & Fam­i­ly Insti­tute,
St. Luke’s-Roo­sevelt Hos­pi­tal Cen­ter
Office: 212–523-2596
Cell: 860–977-3225