Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 www.elsevier.


Emotional intelligence and academic success: examining the transition from high school to university
James D.A. Parker*, Laura J. Summerfeldt, Marjorie J. Hogan, Sarah A. Majeski
Department of Psychology, Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada K9J 7B8 Received 25 July 2002; received in revised form 31 October 2002; accepted 27 January 2003

Abstract The transition from high school to university was used as the context for examining the relationship between emotional intelligence and academic achievement. During the first month of classes 372 first-year full-time students at a small Ontario university completed the short form of the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i:Short). At the end of the academic year the EQ-i:Short data was matched with the student’s academic record. Predicting academic success from emotional intelligence variables produced divergent results depending on how the former variable was operationalized. When EQ-i:Short variables were compared in groups who had achieved very different levels of academic success (highly successful students who achieved a first-year university GPA of 80% or better versus relatively unsuccessful students who received a first-year GPA of 59% or less) academic success was strongly associated with several dimensions of emotional intelligence. Results are discussed in the context of the importance of emotional and social competency during the transition from high school to university. # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Emotional intelligence; Academic success

The transition from high school to university is a particularly stressful situation for most individuals (Brooks & DuBois, 1995; Cantor, Norem, Niedenthal, Langston, & Brower, 1987; Cutrona, 1982; Gall, Evans, & Bellerose, 2000; Kanoy & Bruhn, 1996; McLaughlin, Brozovsky, & McLaughlin, 1998; Perry, Hladkyj, Pekrun, & Pelletier, 2001; Pratt et al., 2000; Ross, Niebling, & Heckert, 1999; Stewart & Healy, 1985). The majority of high school students who go on to post-secondary institutions withdraw before graduation (Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994; Pancer, Hunsberger, Pratt, & Alisat, 2000). First-year university students face a variety of stressors:
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-705-748-1011 x1283; fax: +1-705-748-1580. E-mail address: (J.D.A. Parker).
0191-8869/03/$ - see front matter # 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(03)00076-X

found that social perception (the ability to understand the emotional states of other people) was a moderate predictor of academic performance among university students (using GPA as an indicator of academic success). 1983. see. Sternberg. & Schuster. family obligations. Newsome. Randsell.g. Archer and Lamnin (1985) report that younger students are more concerned with grades. and students at different stages of the transition process (e. for example. Maxwell. Parker et al. employment status. Students ranged in age from 17 to 56 years. The inconsistent findings from previous research on emotional and social competency and academic success in post-secondary education may be the result of a number of methodological problems. studying. Much of the previous research has focused on a narrow range of abilities (e. In addition.g. and Meara (1995). Bar-On. financial concerns.g. have attracted considerable research interest: full. 1997. 1989. see Tinto. full and part-time students were grouped together. / Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 making new relationships. 2001). The study of academic success in university and college has generated a sizeable literature (for a detailed review of the early literature. distance from home town. as were students at different years of study (e. as these variables were found to account for relatively small amounts of variability in grade-point average (GPA) or student attrition (Berger & Milem. they may have compromised the interpretability of their data by combining into a common data-set full and part-time students. third and fourth-year students). Gerdes & Mallinckrodt. Day. graduating students) also experience very different life demands. for example. Each of the following variables. 1997. this line of research has produced contradictory findings. first-year students were grouped together with second. 1994). Students at different stages of their post-secondary programs (e. Johnson. & Martin. The predictive utility of this line of research proved to be quite limited. 1999. With so much of the variance left unexplained.g. and learning study habits for a new academic environment. Lichtman. first-year students versus students about to graduate from university). Failure to master these types of tasks appears to be the most common reason for undergraduate students withdrawing from university (see. (2000) attempted to assess a broad range of emotional and social competencies. and Okagaki (1993) report a modest association between ‘‘practical intelligence’’ and academic performance (also assessed using GPA) in students making the transition from high school to university. however. Murtaugh.or part-time attendance. To date. being a member of an ethnic minority. Mayer & Salovey. high-school marks) and/or standardized measures of cognitive abilities. living apart). Participants were 180 volunteers from a first-year psychology course attending an eastern Canadian university. Burns. Smith. young adults and mature students. they must learn to function as independent adults (e. however. A relatively small body of work has also sought to examine the relationship between academic success and emotional and social competencies. 1997).A. Although Newsome et al. Full and part-time students experience unique challenges and stresses while coping with their academic careers. and gender (for reviews.D.e.g. it is not surprising that researchers have turned their attention to a broad range of other possible predictors for academic success. Blanc. and peer .164 J. first-year students vs. DeBuhr. 1993). social perception or practical intelligence) or has assessed academic success over very narrow time-lines. budgeting time and money). 1982). and Catano (2000) found little association between academic success and emotional and social competencies when they used the 133-item BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i. Wong. More recently. for example. modifying existing relationships with parents and family (e. 1999.g. Day. Wagner. Much of the early research on academic success in post-secondary education focused specifically on the impact of previous school performance (i.

To aid in the interpretability of research findings. and 3% did not indicate their race. 1.1% as Black. adaptability (consisting of abilities like being able to adjust one’s emotions and behaviors to changing situations and conditions). All of the students had graduated from high school within the past 2 years and were in their first-year of full-time study at the university. In September.81).2. 2001).A.D. 1. most models include skills like the ability to accurately appraise and express emotion (or ‘‘intrapersonal’’ abilities). Bagby. and stress management (consisting of abilities like resisting or delaying an impulse). The present study used the transition from high school to university as the context for examining the relationship between various emotional and social abilities and academic achievement. Part-time students. Parker et al.7% as Native American.1. 2000. 2000). using a model of emotional intelligence developed by Bar-On (1997.J. 3. Individuals who are described as low in emotional intelligence manifest difficulties in the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion. and the ability to use feelings to guide behaviour (Parker. while older students report more concerns about financial stressors.2% as Asian. 2. Measures and procedures Participants were recruited from a large psychology class and asked if they would volunteer to participate in a study on ‘‘personality and academic success’’. Bar-On (1997. & Parker.5 fulltime courses). 1997). The mean age of participants was 19.1 Ninety-one percent of the participants identified themselves as White. 2002) that consists of several dimensions: intrapersonal (comprised of several related abilities like recognizing and understanding one’s feelings). 1. the present study restricted its focus to full-time students making the immediate transition from high school to university.=0. Method 1. or students who were beyond their first year of study at the university (defined as completion of more than 7. / Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 165 acceptance. were excluded from the sample. the ability to appraise emotions in others (or ‘‘interpersonal abilities’’). interpersonal (comprised of several related abilities like empathy). at the start of the 1 At the present time in Ontario students may graduate from high school after grade 12 or grade 13. and in the ability to use feelings to guide behaviour (Taylor. Taylor.5 full-year courses during the academic year (September to April). 2000) reports that EI-levels increase significantly from early adulthood to middle age (thus suggesting that EI-levels might be quite different in students recently graduated from high school compared to older adults attending university as a mature student). This study also examined a relatively broad range of emotional and social competencies. in the effective regulation of emotional experiences. & Bagby. . the ability to effectively regulate emotion. Participants The sample consisted of 372 young adults (78 men and 294 women) attending a small Ontario university.34 years (S. Although a number of distinct and overlapping conceptual models have been proposed for emotional intelligence (see Bar-On & Parker.D. Full-time status was defined as completion of at least the equivalent of 3.

75 to 0. Parker. and 0. Along with a total EI scale (the sum of the four sub-scales).73 to 0. a 10-item stress management sub-scale. 0. & Roberts.6% for the unsuccessful group and 78.5 . (submitted for publication) found compelling evidence that these personality dimensions account only for relatively modest amounts of varability in EQ-i:Short scores: the adjusted R2 was 0. has led some researchers to be concerned that instruments like the EQ-i and EQ-i:Short may simply reassess basic personality (Davies.166 J. Bar-On (2002) also presents preliminary construct validity data to suggest that the instrument assesses four moderately inter-correlated EI dimensions. and stress management. the EQ-i:Short also has an 8-item general mood scale and a 6-item positive impression validity scale.28 for stress management. especially when EI is assessed using self-report measures. In a series of standard multiple regression analyses with the five NEO-FFI scales used to predict separate scales on the EQ-i:Short. an achievement that is listed on their university transcript. A high score on any individual ability sub-scale (or the total EQ-i score) reflects a high level of social and emotional competency (BarOn. Roberts. Students who completed the EQ-i:Short were informed that the researchers would be tracking their academic progress at the university. age. course load (4. and a 7-item adaptability sub-scale. The 51-item short form (EQ-i:Short. Bar-On. The subscales and scales on the short form (EQ-i:Short) correlate highly with their corresponding measures on the long form. a 10-item interpersonal sub-scale. Costa & McCrae. and Bond (submitted for publication) have examined the overlap between the EQ-i:Short and the five personality dimensions assessed by the NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI. 0.29 for intrapersonal. interpersonal.16 for adaptability. The two groups were not significantly different with respect to high school grade-point-average (75.19 for the interpersonal scale.96 for men (n=1543) and from 0.A. participants completed the short-form of the BarOn Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i. The EQ-i is a 133 item self-report measure developed to assess four broad dimensions described earlier: intrapersonal.D. Bar-On. 2002). Bar-On (2002) reports correlations between long and short versions of the scales and subscales ranging from 0. 1992) in a large sample of adults (N=615). 1998. 2001). 2002) assesses the same four dimensions. In June.97 for women (n=1631). academic records from the registrar’s office were used to identify two groups of students: academically successful students (defined as a grade-point-average for the academic year above 79%) and academically unsuccessful student (defined as a grade-point-average for the academic year below 60%). There were 67 students (18% of the sample) in the successful group (13 men and 54 women) and 64 students (17% of the sample) in the non-successful group (20 men and 44 women).3 full year courses for the unsuccessful group and 4. These are not arbitrary criteria. In order to compare levels of emotional and social competency in successful and less successful first-year students.8% for the successful group). students in the unsuccessful group are ‘‘rusticated’’ and will be asked to withdraw from the university if their GPA in the second year is not above 59%. & Matthews. Hogan. adaptability. Majeski. after final marks for the entire academic year had been processed by the University’s registrar’s office. Stankov. For the students who participated in the study. Parker et al. 1997). The instrument has a 10-item intrapersonal sub-scale. Concerns about possible overlap between basic personality and EI dimensions. as well as dimensions that are relatively distinct from basic personality dimensions. Zeidner. / Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 academic year. these GPA values have important institutional implications: students in the successful group make the Dean’s Honor roll. EQ-i:Short scores were matched with the student’s academic record (grade-point-average for the academic year). Parker et al.

39* – 0.40* 0.21* . High School GPA 7. High School GPA 7.42* 0. and total EI). Total sample Table 1 presents correlations among EQ-i:Short variables (interpersonal abilities.A. Results 2.61* À0.11 0.D.27* – 0. High School GPA 7.32* – À0.39* 0.04 0. Stress Management 5. high-school GPA. Adaptability 4.17* 0.26* – 0. high school grade-point-average (GPA).01 0. / Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 167 for the successful group).32* 0. 2.08 0.20* – 0.06 0.13 0.75* À0. Adaptability 4.05 0.07 0. Parker et al.12 0.80* À0. Total EQ-i:Short 6.05.J. Total EQ-i:Short 6. r=0. r=0.01 0.12* 0.46* 0. stress management.01 for women). First-Year GPA * P < 0.1. Interpersonal 2. and first-year university GPA for the total sample. Interpersonal 2.21 – 0. and first-year GPA Variables Total sample (N=372) 1.35* – 0.37* – 0.82 for the unsuccessful group and 29. Intrapersonal 3. First-Year GPA Men (N=78) 1. Slightly higher Table 1 Correlations among EQ-i:short variables.32* – À0.61* À0.21* – 0.81* 0.21 for women) and interpersonal abilities (r=0.46* 0.08 0.19 – 0.60* 0.33* 0.60* 0. First-Year GPA Women (N=294) 1. Adaptability 4.39* 0.60* 0.31* 0. Interpersonal 2. Total EQ-i:Short 6.09 0. Intrapersonal 3.00 for men.80* À0.19 for men.00 – 0.33* 0.71* À0.44* 0.03 2 3 4 5 6 – 0.21* – 0.05 0. 1 – 0.43* 0.23 for the successful group on the general mood scale from the EQ-i:Short). Stress Management 5. intrapersonal abilities.41* 0.69* 0.14* 0. Stress Management 5. Intrapersonal 3.32* – À0. Low or nonsignificant correlations were found between first-year GPA and total EI (r=0.06 0. as well as for men and women separately.29* 0.74* À0. adaptability.01 0. or general mood at the time of completing the EQ-i:Short (mean of 30. With respect to the association between academic success (first-year GPA) and the various EIrelated variables. the patterns of correlations were consistent for men and women.46* 0.01 – 0.33* – 0.

35 for men.88 3.34 SD 0.22. stress management [F(1.96 3.381)=55.66 SD 0.D.26 for women).30 3. To further explore the predictive validity of the EQ-i:Short for academic success.39 for women).381)=18.51.33 3. The successful students scored significantly higher than the unsuccessful students on intrapersonal ability [F(1.86.20]. eta2=0.19]. the ANOVA compared mean-item scores rather than scale scores. stress management (r=0.75 0.001. / Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 correlations were found between first-year GPA and intrapersonal abilities (r=0.05 in women. Table 2 presents the means and standard deviations for the EQ-i:Short measure by group. eta2=0. Parker et al.21 for men and women).42 Unsuccessful Mean 4.53 0. The main effect for type was also significant [F(3.64 3. Students also scored significantly higher on adaptability compared to intrapersonal and stress management. Because of an unequal number of items on EQ-i:Short subscales.30]. eta2=0. eta2=0. The main effect for group was significant.12–0.A.32 for women).000. and adaptability [F(1. 2. intrapersonal. separate univariate F-tests were conducted comparing successful and unsuccessful students on each of the four EQ-i:Short scales.75 0.75 3.33 Combined Mean 4. The two groups did not score significantly different on interpersonal ability. vs.001. eta2=0.127)=64. nor was the interaction of gender and group. P < 0.43. P < 0.52 0. Successful vs. gender and type.22 3. group and type. P < 0.06 2.50 .001.11 in men and À0.31 3.54 0.2. The interaction of group and type was also found to be significant [F(3. r=0. and adaptability (r=0.43 3.127)=30.32 for men.64 0.58 0. P < 0.54 0. stress management.33 for men.127)=89.60 0.41].80 0. unsuccessful students To further examine the relationship between academic success in the transition from high school to university and emotional intelligence.44. The main effect for gender was not significant. To understand the main effect for group and the interaction of group and type. unsuccessful) by type of emotional and social competencies (interpersonal. r=0.127)=32. High school GPA was not found to be associated with any of the EI-related measures (r was À0.168 J.34]. eta2=0. a direct discriminant function analysis was performed using emotional intelligence scores as predictors of Table 2 Means and standard deviations on the EQ-i:Short variables for successful and unsuccessful students Scales Successful Mean Interpersonal Intrapersonal Adaptability Stress management Total 4.). High school GPA was also found to be a weak predictor of GPA in the first-year of university (r=0.98 SD 0. and the 3-way interaction of gender.45.53–0.13]. P < 0.25 3.50 0. P < 0. a gender by group (successful vs. r=0.77 3. with the successful group scoring higher than the unsuccessful group on overall EI level [F(1. Multiple comparisons (Student– Newman–Keuls procedure) found that students scored significantly higher on interpersonal abilities compared to the other abilities assessed by the EQ-i:Short. adaptability) analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted with EI level as the dependent variable.

unsuccessful students) with EQ-i:Short variables Actual status n Predicted status Unsuccessful Unsuccessful Successful Total 64 67 131 58 12 70 Successful 6 55 61 91 (Sensitivity) 82 (Specificity) 86 (Overall rate) % Correct membership in two groups (successful vs. Collectively. Following the definitions and procedures outlined by Kessel and Zimmerman (1993). and adaptability) to be significant predictors of academic success (predicting 8–10% of the variability in first-year GPA). (2000). / Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 169 Table 3 Classification results from a discriminant function analysis (successful vs. When the relationship between academic success and emotional intelligence was examined using the total sample (n=372).73. In both studies total EQ-i:Short scores were found to be poor predictors of academic success. 3. who found little association between academic success and emotional intelligence. Quite a different level of prediction was produced when EQ-i:Short variables were compared in groups who had achieved very different levels of academic success: highly successful students who achieved a first-year university GPA of 80% or better versus relatively unsuccessful students who received a first-year GPA of 59% or less. This discrepancy is likely due to major methodological differences between the two studies. several diagnostic efficiency statistics were calculated from these classification results: sensitivity was 82%. it is worth noting that these variables were better predictors of first-year university GPA than high school GPA. Discussion Predicting academic success from emotional intelligence variables produced divergent results depending on how the former variable was operationalized.J. specificity was 91%. (2000). Newsome et al. kappa was 0. these variables were found to be strong predictors in identifying both academically successful (82% of successful students were identified) and unsuccessful (91% of unsuccessful students were correctly identified) first-year students. Discriminant function scores were subsequently used to classify the 131 students into successful and unsuccessful groups. (2000) examined the relationship between emotional intelligence and academic success using a very heterogeneous group of students: full-time and part-time students were combined. stress management. unsuccessful). Classification rates are presented in Table 3. Academic success was strongly associated with several dimensions of emotional intelligence (intrapersonal. and stress management abilities) assessed at the start of the academic year. although the present study found several subscales (intrapersonal. Although these EQ-i:Short subscales were only modest predictors. adaptability. first-year . Results with the successful and unsuccessful groups are at odds with the findings of Newsome et al.D. Parker et al. the pattern of correlations was similar to those reported by Newsome et al. and the overall correct classification rate was 86%.A.

Bar-On (1997.. 1999). 1997. The association between academic success and these emotional and social competencies is not surprising. The stress management dimension involves the ability to manage stressful situations in a relatively calm and proactive manner. focused exclusively on young adults making the transition from high school to full-time study at university.. 2000. Taylor et al. Managing change involves the ability to identify potential problems. they must also modify existing relationships with parents and friends (e. 1982. 2000) and Derksen. One limitation of the present study is that academic success (operationalized as GPA) was assessed for only a single academic year. 2002). The adaptability dimension involves skills related to change management. 1987. Pancer et al.A. 2000.. Stewart & Healy. First-year students are confronted with a variety of new personal and interpersonal challenges. / Personality and Individual Differences 36 (2004) 163–172 students and students in more advanced years of study were combined. . Kramer. 1999. Pratt et al.. Not surprisingly.D. like the one used in the Newsome et al. Cantor et al. 2000.g. as well as the use of realistic and flexible coping strategies (Bar-On. learn to be more independent). Ross et al. and whether a student persists or withdraws from an institution (either to transfer to another institution or to dropout entirely). the transition from high school to university is perceived by most students as a particularly stressful situation (Cantor et al. Graduating from high school and going on to university is a major life transition (Brooks & DuBois. Whether implicit or explicit. 2000. 1985)..170 J. 2001. (2000) study would be a potential confound in any attempt to disentangle the impact of emotional intelligence on the transition from high-school to university. Parker et al. Results of the present study suggest quite strongly that intrapersonal. Stewart & Healy. There is reason to believe that a more extreme age range. For example. 2002. given the type of issues involved in the transition from high school. Along with the need to make new relationships (especially if the student attends a university or college outside of their hometown). the number of courses dropped or not completed. Future research on the long-term effects of emotional and social competency may also want to re-assess these abilities in subsequent stages of an academic program. Individuals who score high on this dimension are rarely impulsive and work well under pressure (Bar-On. 1985). Perry et al. on the other hand. 1997. McLaughlin et al.. Kanoy & Bruhn. The present study. Cutrona. adaptability. 2002). They also need to learn study habits for a relatively new academic environment (one that typically involves more independence than was experienced in high school). Cutrona. 1997. as well as the ability to use information about feelings to understand and guide behavior (Bar-On. 1997).. 1987. The intrapersonal dimension involves the ability to distinguish among and label feelings. 1998. It would also be useful to examine the incremental predictive power of these variables above the prediction achieved by basic personality dimensions assessed by measures like the NEO-FFI. Gall et al. Additional research might also want to investigate a broader range of indicators for academic success than just GPA. Other indicators might include variables like the number of courses completed. 2000.. and Katzko (2002) have reported that EQ-i scores typically increase across the life span from young adulthood to middle age. 1982. 1996.. 1995. Future research needs to examine the long-term effects of emotional and social competency on academic success. young adults starting the transition from high-school to university were also combined with mature students who had completed high school decades earlier. Students typically report that stress levels in their first-year of study are higher than in subsequent years (Ross et al. and stress management abilities are important factors in the successful transition from high school to university.. 2000.

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