Transitions into Further and Higher Education

From: Hughes, G. and Smail, O. (2015) ‘Which aspects of university life are most and least helpful in the transition to HE? A qualitative snapshot of student perceptions’ in: Journal of Further and Higher Education 39: 4, pp.466-480.

‘The findings of this study suggest that transition support may gain better student engagement if it is initially focused on social integration and student wellbeing and lifestyle. Universities may also wish to pay more attention to the impact of administrative processes failing to meet student needs in the transition period’ ‘It is not unusual for students going through transition to experience psychological distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, a reduction in self-esteem and isolation’

This study asked students to respond to short open statements to establish the dominant positive and negative preoccupations in the process of transition – on the understanding that ‘if interventions begin where students are most preoccupied, they may be more likely to engage students at a key moment and open the possibility of addressing other problems while their attention is fixed.’

Social Support – Dominant theme both positive and negative

  • Having friends in the same situation that I can work through with and share my worries.
  • Being left out.

Clear indications that whether or not a student had made friends was a key preoccupation at this stage of the first year.

  • I have found the activities to get to know the lecturers and other students useful as they made me get to know people.
  • Being put into very large lectures during induction week and not having any sort of team building exercises to get to know anyone [was unhelpful].

Interaction with staff, in particular lecturing staff, was also significant.

Psychological mind-set and lifestyle

Identifying their own thinking and behaviour as important to successful transition. Positive and negative.

  • The welcome talk was very motivational and useful. Having someone congratulate us on getting into university and saying we can all do well and to believe in ourselves was great.
  • I feel like we were bombarded with paper and information in my first few weeks … made me feel so overwhelmed and scared.

© Matthew Tizzard

University actions

Real and measurable impact on transition, retention and performance.

Students generally expressed a preference for induction sessions in small groups to allow for team building and socialisation. Large gatherings in lecture theatres attracted more negative comments.

Information overload.


Importance of knowing and understanding the support that was available (professors, academics, institution).


Small administrative and organisational oversights and problems can apparently have a weighty negative impact.

Academic concerns

Academic concerns not a major pre-occupation at this stage – focus on social, personal and organisational aspects of university life.

© Matthew Tizzard


‘Whilst student transition remains a complex and multi-faceted process, this study suggests that universities may benefit from focusing their initial interactions with students on supporting social integration, promoting positive thinking patterns and behaviours and challenging negative thinking and lifestyle choices. Institutions may also wish to consider the potential impact of all early activities on student transition, whilst remaining confident that it is possible to positively influence this process.’