My College Mindset is Intrinsically Motivated | Thinking About College | John Raftrey And Lori McCormick | Almanac Online |

Local Blogs

Thinking About College

By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

E-mail John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f...  (More)

View all posts from John Raftrey And Lori McCormick

My College Mindset is Intrinsically Motivated

Uploaded: Jul 27, 2015
(written by John Raftrey)

This post comes after seeing the word "mindset" in seemingly just about every essay rough draft I've seen over the last few years. This is also my first grammar post, so with our highly educated audience, I expect I should be in a defensive mindset.

I hate the word and always suggest removing it when I see it, but I think there might be little mindset elves magically putting the word back in before the essays head off to college. In my mind I always see it spelled mind-(2,-2).

Mindset started out as educational jargon started in 1920 according to the "Online Etymology Dictionary." It is defined as, "habits of mind formed by previous experience." It's use has since spread like locusts to psychology and game theory.

Mindset is jargon and jargon should be avoided in college essays and most other writing as well.

Instead of saying, "I have a winning mindset," write, "I see myself as a winner." Or even, "I think like a winner," or better yet, "I am a winner."

Instead of writing, "My mindset changed when I got the D in APUSH and developed a studious mindset," write, "I received a wake-up call when I got a D in APUSH and since then I've been a serious student."

Even Beloit College has gotten into the act with a "The Mindset List for the Class of 2016." Why can't they just say "Class of 2016 - Their View of the World."

More Jargon.

Also this week a student wrote about her intrinsic motivation.

"Do you mean you are self-motivated?" I asked.

"Yes, but we learned the word in AP Psych class."

I even think the psychologists are using the word incorrectly. Out here in the real world, one can have intrinsic self-motivation, or intrinsic external motivation. According to Webster, intrinsic is, "belonging to the essential nature of a thing." Some people are intrinsically externally motivated.

John's rule of thumb: If you learn a world in AP Psych, AP Econ, or AP Environmental Science, leave it in the classroom and out of the college essay. There are plenty of great words in English class you can use for all occasions. They worked for Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, F. Scott Fitzgerald and even Tom Clancy. They can work for you, too.

I'm intrinsically motivated to share my mindset with Beloit College when I see them at the Colleges That Change Lives college fair later tonight!
What is it worth to you?


Posted by opinion is onion plus pi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jul 27, 2015 at 10:09 pm

I don't think intrinsic motivation and self-motivation are used exactly the same way. In use, self-motivation implies motivation coming from internal but active application of energy to tasks one may or may not be inclined to do. A go getter is self-motivated, even if it's sweeping floors. Whereas intrinsic motivation implies an internal drive, usually for specific tasks or work one may enjoy. The opposite of self-motivation is usually laziness whereas the opposite of intrinsic motivation is usually extrinsic motivation (or, carrots and sticks, if you must).

I don't think intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation are really neologisms (ha! learned from a friend, not in school) or jargon, they've just been rediscovered by a generation that has seen the damage wrought by a simplistic economic framework in which carrots and sticks are the only motivation game in town (Reaganomics).

Posted by MV Mom, a resident of Shoreline West,
on Jul 31, 2015 at 7:19 am

Hahahahahaha "Even Beloit College has gotten into the act with a "The Mindset List for the Class of 2016." Beloit College has been doing Mindset Lists for 20 years. They set the trend, they didn't follow it. You should really do your research before you deride one of the best liberal arts colleges in the US.

Posted by Liz, a resident of Monta Loma,
on Jul 31, 2015 at 8:43 am

John, I like your rule of thumb for avoiding jargon. It's advice that adults, not just teens, would do well to heed. The link to "email John Raftrey and Lori McCormick" doesn't connect in my browser. Are you able to supply an email address for readers who have non-public comments to offer?

Posted by Common sense, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jul 31, 2015 at 2:10 pm

Great blog post, point well made.

That's the way with jargon. A few years back (it started with luxury cars, if I remember), every advertised sale became an "event" ("Exceptional Opportunity SALE EVENT" says an antiques brochure with items like a 1790 secretary desk marked down from $94,850 to just $49,500), so now they all do it -- like the realtors who euphemized houses into "homes" -- as if repeating absurdity made it OK. Places like Palo Alto are now dubbed the "epicenter" of this or that (which, to anyone who actually knows the word, says that the phenomenon itself is literally underground). Movie and dining critics caught the intransitivized-verb fad ("didn't disappoint") and made it a cliché they won't let go of. People write in these ways as though unaware that everyone else too is doing it, thus making it stand out, and dull the mind. Or mindset.

Posted by John Raftrey and Lori McCormick, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Jul 31, 2015 at 5:26 pm

John Raftrey and Lori McCormick is a registered user.

John Here. Thanks for the comments. Regarding Beloit. I shared my story with the Beloit team at the College fair and they had a good sense of humor about my comment. So I think things are OK there. For the record, Beloit is an outstanding school!

Our email address is

Posted by Growth mindset, a resident of Woodside: other,
on Aug 3, 2015 at 2:12 pm

I don't see the word "mindset" as jargon. In fact, I love the research by Carol Dweck on having a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset, and think it should be required reading by younger high school students so they can realize that they really can learn anything. If your not familiar with the research, google it. Parents and teachers certainly should too.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Which homes should lose gas service first?
By Sherry Listgarten | 5 comments | 16,258 views

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,702 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Page 15
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,368 views

By Laura Stec | 14 comments | 1,235 views


Support local families in need

Your contribution to the Holiday Fund will go directly to nonprofits supporting local families and children in need. Last year, Almanac readers and foundations contributed over $300,000.