Nurturing a Growth Mindset for Academic and Financial Success

by Jalen & Sarah Bromley

Ask the average student what it takes to be successful in college, and they might say “hard work” or “natural abilities.” Although both seem like reasonable answers, they can indicate whether someone has a growth or fixed mindset. You may have encountered the concept of mindset before, but do you know how to apply it to achieving academic and financial success?

In this article, we’ll outline the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset, how the right attitude fosters success during and after college, and top strategies for embracing growth. 

What is a growth mindset vs fixed mindset?

A person with a fixed mindset believes our talents and skills are static. For example, they may think they’re “bad at math” while their friend is “good at math” and decide it’s not worth trying to pursue anything in life that involves numbers. After all, people with more natural talent will always beat them.

In contrast, a person with a growth mindset thinks abilities are dynamic. Struggling with math doesn’t mean you’re inherently “bad at math” and always will be — it just means you need more practice. 

The concept dates back to the psychology researcher Carol Dweck, who studied our motivations to learn and succeed and popularized them in the book “Mindset.” Her research found that people with a fixed mindset focus on proving to themselves and others that they’re clever or talented. Meanwhile, those with a growth mindset can embrace challenges and failures; they know that being bad at something today doesn’t mean you’ll be bad at it forever.

Why this matters for academic success

The theory of mindset is directly applicable to the academic world. 

As part of her psychology research, Dweck went to schools and presented children with puzzles of increasing difficulty. Some children became distressed when confronted with difficult puzzles they couldn’t solve, while others embraced the challenge. Dweck was surprised to realize the second group of children weren’t just coping with failure — they actively enjoyed the challenging puzzles, because they allowed them to learn.

As she later realized, these children had a growth mindset. While the other kids cared about “looking” intelligent, they only cared about becoming smarter. Since they were more willing to take risks and push their limits, the growth-oriented kids actually became smarter.

This doesn’t just affect children — it’s relevant to adults too.

A growth mindset in college

In college, students with a fixed mindset are more likely to choose classes they can get the best grades in so they appear or feel smarter. This strategy might seem successful in the short run, but it won’t allow you to reach your full potential. In contrast, growth-oriented people can choose a challenging class because they find it interesting, which will push them further and help them to master their subject.

As all students know, college is full of unexpected difficulties — not just in the academic arena but also in your personal life. A growth mindset helps you to overcome setbacks. You’ll know that no matter how tough things are today, it’s possible for you to improve yourself and do what it takes to reach greener pastures.

A growth mindset for financial success

If a fixed mindset is limiting for academic success, it can be downright destructive for your finances. The path to riches is rarely handed to people on a platter — you need to take risks and get out of your comfort zone. For example, the most lucrative majors may be areas you’re not “naturally talented” at but have the potential to improve in.

A fixed mindset could hold you back from applying for that job you really want due to believing you’re not good enough. And since the fixed mindset tries to avoid looking bad, you may avoid applying so you don’t have to face these fears.

Then there’s entrepreneurial success. It’s the path to the most impressive riches, but it also tends to be laden with failures. 20% of new businesses fail in their first year, and 65% fail within ten years — and those are just the ones that make it far enough to be studied by the Small Business Administration. Many founders attribute their success to their ability to a growth mindset since it encourages them to learn from their mistakes and stay ahead of the curve.

How can you be innovative enough to come up with the “next big thing” if you’re so afraid of looking stupid that you limit yourself to the things you know you’re already good at?

The growth mindset and finances

Financial success comes down to more than just your career. Some fixed-mindset people believe they’re “bad at money,” which leads them to think they can’t learn skills like investing or budgeting. In reality, with patience and perseverance, anyone can become good at these things.

And while it’s never easy to pull yourself out of a bad financial situation, a growth mindset will maximize your chances by making you more willing to try something new. For example, you might push yourself to pick up a creative side hustle.

Another danger of a fixed mindset is believing there’s nothing left for you to learn. Those with growth mindsets embrace continuous learning since they focus on the love of education itself and not how intelligent they appear. This is often an indirect path to riches — that book you read could provide inspiration for a business venture or teach you how to invest.

How to develop a growth mindset

Whether your primary focus is academic or financial success, you need to go beyond the theory of growth vs fixed mindsets to reap the benefits.

That’s why we’ve compiled the most effective techniques to help you develop a growth mindset.

Positive self-affirmations 

Did you know that your brain is plastic? Well…kinda. It has neuroplasticity, which means it has the ability to “rewire” itself. When it comes to making positive self-affirmations, repetition can help you train your brain to think in a certain way that would actually help it do those things better.

Some examples of affirmations are:

  • “I am capable of mastering any subject with dedication and practice.”
  • “I embrace challenges as opportunities to learn and grow.”
  • “I am open to taking calculated risks to achieve financial success.”

To get started, dedicate a small chunk of your day to affirmations; for instance, 8 am after breakfast. Most people sit down, close their eyes, and repeat the affirmations in their heads (set a timer for five or ten minutes). But you could also say the affirmations out loud, stand in front of a mirror while you repeat them, or even write them down. Whatever helps you to stay focused and remain present.

At first, it may feel silly to do nothing but repeat the same mantra again and again, but you’ll start to understand the power of this habit over time. Keep going for at least a month to really see the results.

Continuous learning

As we’ve mentioned already, one of the greatest benefits of having a growth mindset is continually learning. Even if you don’t yet have a growth mindset, adopting this habit will steer you in the right direction by making you more comfortable with facing challenges. You’ll prove to yourself that you can learn new things and improve.

Set aside at least thirty minutes a day for your learning — whether you choose an online course, a book, or videos. Make sure you choose topics you find difficult yet interesting.


People with fixed mindsets hold themselves back by caring too much about the judgments of other people. They want others to view them as capable, and they focus on retaining that image. One way to remedy this is to purposely seek out feedback from others so you get used to hearing it.

If you’re in college, ask your professors to give you more detailed feedback on your essays or projects. At work, you can see if your manager or colleagues have any pointers for you.

Take the time to truly understand any negative feedback you get, because this is where the most growth lies.

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone

No matter how many affirmations you do in front of the mirror, you won’t develop a growth mindset unless you can push yourself out of your comfort zone.

In an academic context, that may mean studying something you’re not confident about learning or opting for a professor known for leading difficult courses.

As for the world of finances, leaving your comfort zone might mean applying for a job you’re not sure you’re capable of or starting a risky entrepreneurial venture.

You can also push yourself in small ways, such as speaking in class even though you’re not sure you have the right answer. Try to set small goals for yourself each week.

The right network

Building a solid network can help you to foster personal growth and adopt a growth mindset toward life. As they say, we’re the product of the people we spend the most time with.

Even if you have a fixed mindset currently, spending time around growth-oriented people can help to nudge you into a new way of thinking. It’s not always easy to figure out if someone has a growth or fixed mindset the first time you meet them, but you’re likely to find more of them in groups related to personal improvement, passions, and ambition.

It’s all about the mindset

A growth mindset is all about realizing that you can learn from your mistakes and push your limits to unlock your full potential. This will boost your chances of achieving academic and financial success — but it will free you up to enjoy life more and feel better about yourself.

As part of your commitment to continuous learning, why not educate yourself more on managing your finances? At Frugal Student, we have a newsletter that sends out regular tips specific to college students.

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