Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

School Name

Annsley Frazier Thornton School of Education



Major Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Dinkins

Second Advisor

Dr. Fred Rhodes

Third Advisor

Dr. Pam Cartor


Depression has increased as a presenting concern among college students seeking counseling services, reaching 41.23% in 2016 (Reetz, Bershad, LeViness, & Whitlock, 2016). A Pessimistic Explanatory Style has been found to be related to depression, poor academic success, and GPA (Chang & Sanna, 2007; Dweck, 2008; Ramirez, Maldonado, & Martos, 1992; Seligman, 2011; Stipek, 1988). Further, undergraduate enrollment has decreased nationally by six percent between 2010 and 2015 (NCES, 2018). These factors support the need to explore overlooked aspects that can support a student’s transition into college (Hutson & He, 2011). This grounded theory study explored the transition experiences of first year, full time, traditionally aged college students with a pessimistic explanatory style, supported by the theories of Learned Helplessness, Symbolic Interactionism, and Transition (Blumer, 1989; Schlossberg, 1981; Seligman, 1970). Three assertions compose the resulting theory as students with a pessimistic explanatory style: (a) filter their transition experiences through a keen awareness of a dynamic reality; (b) employ a comparative lens to prepare for and make sense of their transition to college; and (c) experience their transition through a two-phase process that begins with a focus on relationships and personal development, then shifts toward academic and diversity engagement. A fourth unanticipated assertion identified that students with a pessimistic explanatory style showed a positive change in attributional style. Recommendations include increased support to students through holistic mentoring, implementation of broad mental health models, and consideration for the dynamic reality perceived by students and the impact that has on current student perceptions.