Transition of First Year Students Into University Life


Starting a university life is said to be the most exciting academic experience for students through out their lengthy course of schooling. However, many would disagree. The fact is that university experience is distinct for every person and may prove to have different impacts upon their lives. A university can be traditionally described as an institute that provides academic degrees of higher education in a variety of subjects. With the passage of time there is a rising increase in the number of universities and the number of students that pursue further education after school. University life, in many aspects, is different from the school and earlier education institutes and this change makes it a significant step towards professional and practical lives. This paper is focused upon the transition that fresh university students face as they mould into the culture and customs of universities. Moreover, it would depict the issues affecting this transitory phase faced by all first year students.


Transition is central to our lives. Change is an inevitable phenomenon that is present at every stage of life. Transition can be described as the movement or change from the known to the unknown factors and is faced at various points in life (Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan, 1996). The movement from one place to another, such as from primary school to secondary school, from university to workplace and so on, can be a problematic phase of transition.

Transition is a Personal Experience

According to the study of Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan (1996) student transition is a combination of three basic problems faced. These include the anxiety about the move, the process of adjusting to the new atmosphere, environment, people and other factors (Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan, 1996). Moreover, the continuity or in some cases the discontinuity with respect to the program. Students are expected to adapt to and learn the many differences in various aspects of their life. These changes may arouse mixed emotional feelings. However, the transition is distinct for each student as some may find the experience positive and constructive while other may feel discontent and lack the confidence and sense of security that they previously observed.

Uncertainly of New Life

There have been a number of studies focused upon the journey to university and the first year experience (Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan, 1996). The studies focus on how students enter into a different and more vulnerable atmosphere where there are more people to interact with, more assignments and study project and consequently less people to depend upon or seek help from. The students are expected to analyze the new culture and mould themselves into the new settings and context and find ways to interact with peers and group members. Universities hold greater diversity when it comes to the students, the courses, programs and leisure activities.

Students have varying expectations and needs from their new life at university. Their expectations reflect their level of motivation and feelings about the ongoing transition. According to studies there are a number of factors that are more prevalent than others in affecting the experience and settlement into university culture. These factors include the need for social interaction and friends; the family expectations and attachments; the future prospects; financial constraints; the level of interest in the selected courses, the workload and the work-groups assigned.

A study by Beard, Clegg and Smith (2005) assessed the role of emotion in higher education. The study focused on the feedback from students at a number of stages in their first year of university. The students were expected to give an insight to the positive and negative aspects of the transition into university culture. The samples were gathered from the induction week, the end of first semester and through the end of the second semester. The study showed a variety of responses. The students tend to be ambitious while starting a new life; they tend to have positive feelings about the people they meet, their learning experience and the way they would lead their new life. However, there are traces of uncertainty and reluctance that shows that students entering a new atmosphere and environment tend to be hesitant and doubtful about the way they would adjust in the new context.

Independence and New Relationships

The study showed the changes in the feedback from students as they progressed through their time at university. The first week showed uncertainty as to the expectations from the new life and environment. The second phase that rendered emotions of students as they moved closer to the end of the first semester showed that they tend to grow more comfortable with their surroundings. Students tend to familiarize with the teaching process, the people around them and the way they are expected to manage their independent lives away from home. During this time, however, some students find it difficult to cope with the independence where they are expected to lead their lives by themselves, do their own laundry and take responsibility for everything. The academic independence also worried some as they experienced a lack of guidance and feedback. The questions as to whether they had made the right decision struck when they are unable to keep up with the fast paced study patterns. As they students approached to end of the second semester, the third phase of the study, they were presenting a more confident and settled attitude towards their university life. They start getting more used to the style of teaching and the assignments that they are expected to complete (Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan, 1996). They tend to grow more comfortable with their independence and now tend to adapt a habit of making their own decisions and taking responsibility. The friendships are more deepened with time and students feel lonely being away from their university during Christmas or Easter breaks.

According to the study by Game and Metcalfe, Some of the very important elements first year students to fit into the change in culture include the process of building friendships. The elimination of competition can lead to better relationships amongst peer hence, lead to less awkwardness and rivalry. Instead of competition it is important to work more openly and collaboratively. Moreover, in order to make friends it is essential to involve in activities that provide opportunities of meeting new people and interacting with them.

Universities’ Role in Transition

Apart from students, it is also important for universities to continually modify and renew their orientation programs and arrange various seminars for students to could find guidance to counter their potential problems (Hargreaves, Earl & Ryan, 1996). Extra support and counseling should be provided to students that face problems with courses, and for students who are away from home.


The studies and their result show that students enter into university life they go through a real emotional journey that affects every aspect of their well being. However, they tend to pave their way through their life in the new context and learn to juggle different activities and cope up with their studies, social lives, and independent responsibilities. These experiences in turn make them more confident and give them a bright prospect towards their future along with having a great time.


Beard, C., Klegg, S. & Smith, K. (2005) Acknowledging the affective in higher education. British educational research journal, vol. 33, no.2, pp. 235-252.

Fullan, M. (1982). The meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press.

Game, A. & Metcalfe, A. (2003) The first year experience. The federation press. Leichhardt.

Hargreaves, A., Earl, L.M., & Ryan, J. (1996). Schooling for change: Reinventing education for early adolescents. London: The Falmer Press.

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