Chardie Baird, a Kansas State University assistant professor of sociology, and John Reynolds, a Florida State University professor of sociology, used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health -- both national data sources -- for their study.
They challenge many social-psychological theories that suggest if people do not realize their plans, they're likely to be depressed.
"The big story is that we shouldn't really discourage students from shooting for the stars," Baird says in a statement. "At least in terms of mental health, there are no real consequences for trying and failing to meet educational plans."
The researchers coined the term "adaptive resilience," which means people will adapt their reactions to prevent depression if they don't meet their educational plans.
"Considering that there are material and psychological rewards for getting more education, there is just no reason to discourage students or your children from trying, even if it looks like they don't show academic potential," Baird says.
The findings, published in the American Sociological Review.