Module 1, Topic 1
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Theme 1: Transition into University

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What does it cover?

  • Pre application communication and outreach activity
  • Pre entry support and preparation for university
  • Recruitment and admissions processes
  • The transition into university
  • Induction/orientation
  • The first year*

*This doesn’t just mean first year undergraduate. It also covers first year post–graduates and direct entrants onto year 2 and 3 etc.

Principles of good practice

1.1 Universities take a whole university approach to transition, embedding measures to support the positive transition of all students across their provision and into the curriculum.

1.2 Measures to support transition begin from pre–application and continue through application, pre–entry, arrival, induction and through the first year.

1.3 Measures to support transition aim to promote wellbeing, efficacy, academic integration and social connectedness.

1.4 Universities provide additional or specific interventions for students who face additional barriers.

Why is this theme important and what matters?

There is now decades of evidence demonstrating that the transition into university and the first year experience are hugely significant for student success, confidence, belonging and wellbeing [12].

For a large proportion of the student population, the beginning of university can be exciting, rewarding and liberating, with a manageable mix of positive, neutral and negative experiences (3). However, it has long been recognised that, for many, the transition into higher education can be a stressful process (4, 5). Research has identified that, during this period of transition, many students experience psychological distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, a reduction in self–esteem and isolation (4, 5, 8, 9). In some cases, student wellbeing has been found to reduce on entry to university and not to reset to their original, pre–university, baseline for many months (7, 8). Some research has also identified links between transition experience and student suicide and suicidal ideation (9). 

The quality of transition can have long term effects both on academic persistence and success and on student wellbeing (1). Many students who withdraw from university in the first year do so in the first weeks of term or because of experiences in this time period (6). Transition experiences appear to have long term effects on student socialisation, health behaviours and self–efficacy (10). Good transition experiences, on the other hand, can ensure that students feel supported and that they develop a sense of belonging, confidence and motivation that can lead to increased persistence, achievement and wellbeing (3, 6). When universities address transition effectively, it is possible to ensure that the balance of experience is positive for all students (11, 12, 13). 

One of the factors determining whether an individual has a positive or negative transition experience is student preparation. Students who have had the opportunity to acquire the necessary social and navigational capital are more likely to settle quickly into their new environment (11, 14). This has clear implications for universities in terms of social justice and widening participation. Students from ‘non–traditional’ backgrounds, may encounter additional barriers and challenges (15) if universities do not ensure that practice, pedagogy and culture is adapted for the whole population (16). 

Pre–entry interventions can have positive impacts for a range of students. Examples in the literature demonstrate benefits in helping to build belonging, academic self–efficacy, familiarisation and wellbeing (11). Within the Charter consultations staff, from many institutions, identified ways in which they were supporting students who faced additional barriers to prepare for university. This included establishing support for those who experienced long term mental illness, prior to the beginning of term. 

Some staff and students also suggested that it is important for universities to consider how their pre–arrival interactions with students may have negative impacts on their wellbeing, in the long term. For instance, marketing material that sets unrealistic expectations about the university experience, (e.g. that it is always fun) may have negative consequences when those expectations cannot be met.

How students are supported during the first days and weeks of term and the strategies, tools and assistance which the university provides to enable success and belonging, can have significant impacts (12, 17). Well planned and structured induction programmes have been shown to improve integration, wellbeing and confidence (17). This is particularly true if induction is embedded into an inclusive and scaffolded curriculum and academic programmes utilise curriculum design that has a focus on transition pedagogy (18). Equally, it appears that early poor experiences of the new university environment can reduce student persistence, self–belief and sense of belonging (17). 

Recent work describes transition as a socio– psychological process of becoming, in which emotion, social connection, efficacy and wellbeing are key elements (2). As a consequence, universities should move away from the concept of induction being an information–providing process and focus on the felt experience and social and academic integration. Furthermore, induction works best when embedded beyond the first few weeks and managed as a process over the entire first year experience (18).

To ensure that transition is positive for all students, it must be structurally embedded into every aspect of university planning and activity. As Kift (2015) and others (19) have argued, transition must be “integrated and implemented through an intentionally designed curriculum by seamless partnerships of academic and professional staff in a whole–of–institution transformation” (19, 20).

Suggested resources

Research from the Charter consultation – E. Cage, E. Jones, G. Ryan, G. Hughes & L. Spanner (2021) Student mental health and transitions into, through and out of university: student and staff perspectives

Student Minds – Transition into University

Student Minds – Know Before You Go


1. Tinto, V. (2003). Establishing Conditions For Student Success. In: Thomas. L., Cooper M. and Quinn. J, eds., Improving Completion Rates Among Disadvantaged Students. 1st ed. Stoke On Trent: Trentham Books Ltd, 2003, pp. 1–10.
2. Kahu, E.R. & Nelson, K. (2018) Student engagement in the educational interface: understanding the mechanisms of student success, Higher Education Research & Development, 37:1, pp. 58–71, . DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2017.1344197
3. Richardson, A., King, S., Garrett, R. & Wrench, A. (2012). Thriving or just surviving? Exploring student strategies for a smoother transition to university. A Practice Report. Student Success, 3(2), 87.
4. Fisher, S. & Hood, B. (1987). The Stress of the Transition to University: a longitudinal study of psychological disturbance, absent mindedness and vulnerability to homesickness. British Journal of Psychology, (78), pp. 425–441.
5. Harris, A. (2019). Finding our own way. (Rep). Online: Centre for Mental Health
6. Palmer, M., O’Kane, P. and Owens, M. (2009). Betwixt Spaces: Student Accounts of Turning Point Experiences in the First–Year Transition. Studies in Higher Education, 34 (1), pp. 37–54.
7. Bewick, B., Koutsopoulou, G., Miles, J., Slaa, E., & Barkham, M. (2010). Changes in undergraduate students’ psychological well–being as they progress through university. Studies in Higher Education, 35(6), pp. 633–645. DOI: https://doi–org.ezproxy.derby.
8. Gall, T. L., Evans, D. R., & Bellerose, S. (2000). Transition to first–year university: Patterns of change in adjustment across life domains and time. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19(4), pp. 544–567.
9. Stanley, N., Mallon, S., Bell, J. and Manthorpe, J. (2009). Trapped in Transition: findings from a UK study of student suicide. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 37 (4), pp. 419–433.
10. Kleiber, P., Whillans, A.V. & Chen, F.S. (2018). Long–Term Health Implications of Students’ Friendship Formation during the Transition to University. Applied psychology: health and well–being, 10 (2), pp. 290–308. DOI: 10.1111/ aphw.12131
11. Pennington, C.R., Bates, E.A., Kaye, L.K. & Bolam, L.T. (2018) Transitioning in higher education: an exploration of psychological and contextual factors affecting student satisfaction, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42:5, 596–607. DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2017.1302563
12. Hill, E., Posey, T., Gomez, E. & Shapiro, S.L. (2018) Student Readiness: Examining the Impact of a University Outdoor Orientation Program. Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership. 10(2) pp 109–123 . DOI:–2018–V10–I2–7184
13. Thomas, L. (2012). Building student engagement and belonging in higher education at a time of change: Final report from the What Works? Student retention and success programme. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
14. Yorke, M. & Longden, B. (2004) Retention and student success in higher education. London: Society for Research into Higher Education
15. Harvey, L., Drew, S. & Smith, M. (2006). The first year experience: a review of literature for the Higher Education Academy. 1st ed. Higher Education Academy.
16. Zepke, N., Leach, L., Prebble, T., Campbell, A., Coltman, D., Dewart, B. & Wilson, S. (2005). Improving tertiary student outcomes in the first year of study. Final Report. Wellington, New Zealand: Teaching and Learning Research Initiative.. finalreport.pdf
17. Mayhew, M.J., Vanderlinded, K. and Kim, E.K. (2010). A Multi–Level Assessment of the Impact of Orientation Programs on Student Learning. Research in Higher Education, 51, pp. 320–345.
18. Kift, S. (2008). The next, great, first year challenge: Sustaining, coordinating and embedding coherent institution–wide approaches to enact the FYE as “everybody’s business”. Keynote. In 11th Pacific Rim First Year Experience in Higher Education (FYHE) Conference 2008
19. Kift, S. (2015). A decade of Transition Pedagogy: A quantum leap in conceptualising the first year experience. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2, pp. 51–86..–review–higher–education– vol–2/51–86. [Accessed: 9/11/19]
20. Kift, S., Nelson, K., & Clarke, J. (2010). Transition pedagogy: A third generation approach to FYE – A case study of policy and practice for the higher education sector. The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education. 1(1), pp. 1–20