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Understanding Students' Adaptation to Graduate School: An Integration of Social Support Theory and Social Learning Theory Open Access

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The contemporary business world demands adaptive individuals (Friedman & Wyman, 2005). Adaptation is essential for any life transition. It often involves developing coping mechanisms, strategies, and seeking of social support. Adaptation occurs in many settings from moving to a new culture, taking a new job, starting or finishing an educational program, or transitioning in or out of an interpersonal relationship. For managers, an understanding of how to help individuals to adapt becomes imperative.Transition to graduate management school, often after years of working, characterizes a life change for many individuals (Goplerud, 1980; Griffiths, Winstanley, & Gabriel, 2005; Mallinckrodt & Leong, 1992). A better understanding of how to improve adaptability and the factors that predict effective adaptation has becomes a central focus of graduate management education efforts. However, little is known about how students adapt to graduate school. Drawing on experiential learning theory (Kolb, 1984), learning how to adapt involves the integrated functioning of the whole person- thinking, feeling, perceiving, and behaving. During the learning process, to reconcile dialectically opposed learning modes and successfully adapt, it often elicits negative emotional reactions and stress (Kayes, 2002; Thoits, 1986; Vince, 1998). For graduate management students, the unique demands of the academic environment further confound the stress from other domains of life. For many of these students, effective adaptation may predict how they perceive their overall educational experience.Based on a resource vs. demand view of adaptation, social support is proposed as a critical situational determinant of graduate adaptation because it helps students reduce uncertainty and enhance mastery over the environment (Albrecht & Adelman, 1987; Thoits, 1995). Drawing on multiple bodies of literature, including social support theory (Cohen & Wills, 1985a), social learning theory (Bandura, 1997), and the adaptation literature, this study provides a better understanding of graduate stress, social support, and self-efficacy and how they relate to graduate student adaptation.The study utilized a longitudinal design and data were collected from 150 MBAs at the middle and end of the fall semester, 2011. I used Partial Least Squares (PLS) to test hypothesis. Controlling for individual characteristics, social support was found to have direct, positive impacts on learning adaptation, stress adaptation and graduate satisfaction. In addition, social support had indirect effects on these adaptive outcomes through the mediation of perceived stress and academic self-efficacy. Despite the direct and indirect effects of social support, the moderating effect of social support was not found, suggesting social support is effective for all level of stress. Finally, the examination of type-specific effects of social support indicated that while some types of support were beneficial for adaptive outcomes, others had deleterious impacts.The study contributes to the social support literature by comprehensively examining different effects of social support in a management education setting. Also, the study contributed to the literature on adaptation in general and Pulakos et al.'s (2000, 2002) work in particular by examining social support as a situational predictor of adaptive performance. Finally, it offered insight into how to facilitate students' adaptation through adequate types of support and efficacy enhancement.

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