Students’ Conceptions of Academic Success: Themes, Guiding Lines and Contradictions



Academic success is a popular topic of psychological and pedagogical studies, but such studies usually emphasize factors that affect academic success or variables associated with it.What constitutes academic success remains an open question if at all posited.Researchers tend to use simplified operationalizations, mainly the academic performance, and ignore the students’ point of view.The purpose of this study is to clarify students’ perceptions of academic success.A qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews about learning experience was conducted.The study involved 20 students from various Moscow universities who completed their first academic year (aged 17—42).The technique of reflective thematic analysis was applied.Main themes are the following: “Performance” (learning is considered successful if grades are high and there are no academic troubles), “Knowledge” (learning is successful if the curriculum is being assimilated, or professional knowledge increasing, of one’s horizons are expanding), “Sense of self” (learning is considered successful if there is interest in studying, enthusiasm, as well as internal comfort and/or self-development).Themes are arranged in a sequence, moving from external criteria to internal ones.A number of contradictions are found in the informants’ perceptions of success.In the continuum of themes, different understandings of success are attributed to different instances (university, profession, life activities, Self) and allow us to see the diversity and inconsistency of higher education meanings that explain the observed paradoxes.

General Information

Keywords: academic success, higher education, academic achievement, educational performance, educational success.

Journal rubric: Educational Psychology


For citation: Yaroshevskaya S.V., Sysoeva T.A. Students’ Conceptions of Academic Success: Themes, Guiding Lines and Contradictions. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i obrazovanie = Psychological Science and Education, 2021. Vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 92–101. DOI: 10.17759/pse.2021260106. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


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Information About the Authors

Svetlana V. Yaroshevskaya, Junior Research Fellow, Laboratory of Scientific Foundations of Child Practical Psychology, Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:

Tatiana A. Sysoeva, PhD in Psychology, Research Fellow, Psychological Institute of the Russian Academy of Education, Moscow, Russia, ORCID:, e-mail:



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