Need for Structure and Academic Motivation as Predictors of Psychological Well-Being during COVID-19

Caelan DeMuth, Mason Wheeler, Maggie Lewis (Advisor: Dr. Findley Van-Nostrand)

Image taken fromL Harris, M. (2015). Top Valentine’s places to cry alone on campus. photograph.

Background Information

Many changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have affected well-being of individuals, with college students being uniquely affected given the changes in their academic environment. Specifically, remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way students are expected to learn, potentially driving issues related to focus and to social isolation. Younger students with less experience in university level education may be at higher risk of struggling more than their older peers during the pandemic (Ledman, 2008). In this study, we students’ psychological well-being in relation to their individual need for structure (that is, the extent to which they desire structure and clarity and find ambiguity troubling), academic motivation (the extent to which they are motivated to remain in and do well in school), and academic year. We expected responses that underclassmen or younger students would report higher levels of a need for structure and lower levels of academic motivation, and that both motivation and need for structure would predict well-being. As motivation in academic settings during the ongoing pandemic had yet to be assessed this research may be used to provide insight into how to provide resources to students during upcoming academic terms.

Methods and Measures

Participants for this research were individuals currently enrolled at Roanoke College. There were 115 participants, of which 39 were freshmen, 39 were sophomores, 21 were juniors, and 16 were seniors; 30 identified as male, 83 identified as female, and 2 identified as nonbinary.  Participants were recruited via the Roanoke College Psychology Department through SONA and led to an external survey using Qualtrics. Participants answered a combination of questions pertaining to their academic year, gender, and demographics in addition to questions intended to assess individual needs for structure, academic motivation and well-being. Questions pertaining to structure were taken from the Personal Need for Structure scale. Academic motivation was assessed via questions in the Academic Motivation scale. Psychological Well-Being scale was used to gauge the well-being of participants. Ultimately the three scales demonstrated relationships between individualized preferences for structure, mental health and motivation to remain focused and engaged in coursework during COVID-19.

Results and Discussion

This study was facilitated successfully, especially given the challenges of a nontraditional semester. Contrary to the initial expectation for this study, participants enrolled in their senior year reported the lowest scores for perceived wellness whereas underclassmen reported the highest scores for this criteria. Although students in lower academic years reported higher values of perceived wellness, responses from first years did have the largest standard deviation, suggesting that there was more variation among participants in lower academic years. However, it was found that there was no statistically significant differences when separating between  the psychological well-being subscales (autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations, purpose in life, self-acceptance) between academic years.

Personal need for structure was unrelated to academic motivation. Academic motivation was positively related to psychological well-being in the era of COVID-19 learning. Academic motivation is the voluntary engagement with coursework in terms of intrinsic and extrinsic variables (Cerino, 2014), suggesting that those who can maintain high levels of motivation are likely also experiencing higher well-being in other areas. It was found that personal need for structure statistically significantly predicted the psychological well-being subscale of purpose in life, while academic motivation as a whole statistically significantly predicted the psychological well-being subscale of personal growth, and somewhat significantly predicted the psychological well-being subscale of autonomy. Overall, results suggest that need for structure and academic motivation during the pandemic are related to well-being, but this depends on type of well-being.


This research study challenged each of us extensively throughout the duration of the semester. The first and largest obstacle we as a group encountered was transitioning Research Seminar class typically taught in person to a fully remote and functional formatt. We were given the additional task to complete the workload together across time zones via Zoom rather than have the ease of access to be able to meet whenever necessary in person. Our initial research topic was a much broader version of our final product, with the first intent to be to examine COVID-19 impact on wellness in all of its dimensions and definitions. This was evidently too broad as the eight clinical dimensions of wellness (Stoewen, 2017) would have introduced a myriad of confounds to our research. The goal of our work was to examine if academic motivation and perceived wellness had been impacted during a semester of exclusively remote learning.

As our study was conducted via online survey, the ease in accessibility for participants was likely beneficial to the recruitment process. The convenience of the survey being administered online allowed for more people to complete it on their own time. An additional positive to the survey being conducted online eliminated the risk of observer bias and made participants more comfortable by removing the risk of potential exposure to COVID-19. Despite the challenges of conducting research in a fully remote manner, our group was able to find significant associations within our data and report conclusive findings.


The main findings of this study indicate that college underclassmen are experiencing higher perceived wellness than upperclassmen in the era of COVID-19, and that personal need for structure and academic motivation only significantly correlate with three of the six psychological well-being subscales (purpose in life, autonomy, and personal growth). COVID-19 has caused significant changes to what is defined as a normal academic setting. With this knowledge moving forward, academic institutions may use this information to provide adequate mental health resources for students as well as modify course plans to proceed in more academically efficient means.


Cerino, Eric. S. (2014). Relationships between academic motivation, self-efficacy, and academic procrastination. Psi Chi Journal of Psychological Research, 19(4).

Ledman, R. (2008). Comparing student learning in online and classroom formats of the same course. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from

Stoewen, D. (2017). Dimensions of wellness: Change your habits, change your life. Retrieved September 15, 2020, from