Entitlement: Feelings that Follow Students to College, by Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD

You’ve likely heard the term entitlement, defined by the American Psychiatric Association as “unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with expectations.”

In today’s college environment, a new term has emerged called academic entitlement. It refers to a student’s expectation that they receive high grades, regardless of performance.

While it’s natural to visualize success, how to prepare youth for college is multifaceted. Will success emerge from good grades, extra-curricular activities, and a resume of accomplishments? Will it come from being kind, believing in self, and developing positive relationships?

Of course, all of these things play a role in children’s college admittance. But recent research sheds light on another important aspect of how kids succeed beyond high school and how parents and teachers can nurture realistic expectations in children that pay big dividends when they get to college.

It’s a fact that student scores on K-12 achievement tests have remained relatively constant over the years. Yet, K-12 grades have increased dramatically. This suggests that today’s students are receiving higher grades for the same performance as kids in previous decades. Some studies show that even the most talented students earn success by cleverly circumventing hard work.

Consequently, many students start college with expectations of receiving good grades for minimal effort. They feel entitled to good grades for numerous reasons, including because they did well in high school or because they see themselves as a customer, paying tuition toward professors’ salaries.

What happens when students develop unrealistic expectations toward college or the work world? They respond with anger and disappointment when their goals are not achieved. Feelings of entitlement have been correlated with a host of negative outcomes, including hostility, depression, difficulty in relationships, and greed. Parents and K-12 teachers can minimize the risk of academic entitlement in college by instilling positive values toward learning and success.

Seven Principles that Reduce Feelings of Entitlement

  1. Knowledge is a privilege that is earned through hard work, challenge, and discomfort.
  2. Learning isn’t about satisfying requirements; it’s about living a satisfying life.
  3. When you are struggling, it’s your responsibility to ask for help.
  4. Failure is the bedrock of learning. Embrace your failures as opportunities.
  5. No one has the same learning or test-taking style. Discover the strategies that help you succeed to the best of your abilities.
  6. Teachers develop policies that apply to everyone. There are penalties for breaking the rules just as there are in the world outside of school.
  7. Teachers can only facilitate learning. Education is something we accomplish for ourselves throughout a lifetime.

When children embrace behaviors that emerge from these principles, they take responsibility for their successes and failures, accept the consequences of their actions, and learn to engage with meaningful life and career goals.


Hersh, R. H., & Merrow, J. (Eds.). (2005). Declining by degrees: Higher education at risk. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kopp, J. P., Zinn, T. E., Finney, S. J., & Jurich, D. P. (2011). The development and evaluation of the academic entitlement questionnaire. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 44, 105-129.

Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Published: June 25, 2012

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