Becoming a first-year student of higher education marks a significant educational transition. Indeed, transition is an ongoing process throughout the first year, e.g., between semesters and, in some education programs, also between theoretical teaching and clinical training. It is our experience that students frequently struggle with becoming familiar with educational expectations, both entering and during higher education (1). We are concerned with the impact of educational gaps on student motivation, engagement, and retention.
The aim of this study was to explore students´ experiences of transitions throughout student life. We here focus on identifying supportive and challenging factors to provide a better understanding and help us to support students throughout their first year.
An online anonymous survey with open-ended questions was distributed to first- and second-/third-year students enrolled at three undergraduate technology programs at University College Copenhagen. Students were asked to describe three things that, in their experience, work well and three things that are difficult in student life, respectively. Student responses (35-79% response rate) were coded, and both common and unique patterns were identified using a framework (2), which conceptualizes student success into the domains: sense-of-academic-culture, sense-of-connectedness, sense-of-capability, sense-of-purpose, and sense-of-resourcefulness.
The most common themes in what worked in student life, we identified as ´study groups´ and ´educators´. In relation to what is difficult in student life, the most common themes identified, were ´student workload´, ´fast-paced courses´, ´study-life balance´ and, again, ´study groups´.
We identified student-student and student-staff supportive relationships as supportive features helping students manage transitions in the first year of student life. Well-functioning study groups and teachers played an important role in helping students manage student life. Good study relationships can contribute to a sense-of-connectedness (2). However, students find it difficult to navigate a high study workload, fast-paced courses and balance study and life. Understanding what is expected and managing academically is crucial in helping students to develop a sense-of-capability and encouraging students to seek help if needed, contributes to a sense-of-resourcefulness (2). We will show examples of how these data are used to inform faculty discussions and decisions in revising curriculum and teaching and teaching activities.

1. Tett, L., Cree, V.E. & Christie, H. From further to higher education: transition as an on-going process. High Educ 73, 389–406 (2017)
2. Wilson, K. & Casales, P. Success in first year. ResearchGate (2010)
Original languageEnglish
Publication date29 May 2024
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2024


  • learning, educational science and teaching

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