Challenges That Transitioning Students Face In University

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When students begin to transition into Higher Education, some challenges come along with it. Throughout this essay, there will be references to Thomas’ report on ‘Belonging and Engagement’ concept which shows ‘the importance of students having a strong sense of belonging in Higher Education, which is the result of engagement’ (Thomas, p12, 2012). Belonging is the feeling of inclusiveness in the university climate and all the aspects of their academic life. Student Engagement is linked very closely to this and means that students are interested and actively taking part in their courses to allow them to learn effectively and progress successfully. This essay will discuss the challenges of transitioning into Higher Education (HE) with a focus on three topics: poor time management, issues from being a first-generation student, disengaging in social activities, and lack of new relationships.

A challenge that students face is the time management nightmare from the vast amount of work needed to be done in limited time when transitioning into HE ‘The students identified time management as the most significant element of the transition from the second level to higher education.’ (Denny, p5, 2015). That is because of a lack of self-motivation. There is no longer everyday supervision from teachers or parents. Independent study becomes critically important to manage the work because professors do not have the time to find students to submit assignments. ‘In secondary education, there was the kind of learning that includes an explanation of everything. However, when students enter university, they find out that what they learn is a lecture, that only includes superficial information and the rest is their job to know about and explore further’ (Nasrullah, Saqib Khan, p67, 2015). There is also a false sense of security that in HE, there is lots of time to do absolutely everything in the course when actually, it is impossible. (Denny, p35, 2015) says ‘many students stated that a significant contributor to the transitional challenge was unrealistic expectations surrounding the details of their course and the high level of work required.’ It is a challenge to obtain high quality and quantity of work when a student is underprepared for HE and is not showing sufficient organisational skills which are vital to keeping up to date with coursework.

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An obstacle to entering HE for some people may be the pressure of being a first-generation student and being introduced to an unfamiliar environment. According to (Wilbur and Roscigno, 2016) ‘Such students report being overwhelmed by the application process and transition as they shoulder the financial strains of paying for college, sustaining themselves, and leaving their families…simultaneously adjusting to the social and academic demands of HE without necessarily the same resources, skills, and knowledge as their more advantaged peers.’ The disadvantages are due to the unavailability of teachers and the lack of family members who previously experienced HE to assist with the process and transition. Having to carry the weight of family responsibilities may cause disparities relating to extra burdens and the feeling of belonging because the adult treatment from the university is very different from the parental treatment.

Adjusting into the new environment of university life by oneself is intimidating to most, if not all, students. Social challenges, such as difficulty in making friends, can create a negative impact on a student’s learning and social involvement. ‘At a time that they are full with considerable apprehension and dislocation, the inability to identify with others in similar circumstances can be a particularly alienating experience.’ (Kantanis, p3, 2000). It is mainly due to having little to no sense of belonging, whether in friendships, building a rapport with tutors or a lack of confidence to strike up conversations with peers. This lack of communication with others will then introduce feelings of loneliness; ‘Development (or lack) of a friendship network featured as a critical factor in students’ level of adjustment.’ (Kantanis, p3, 2000). Being socially idle can have damaging effects on a students’ academic engagement, which has a domino effect on their desired marks/grades and can make students feel inadequate. Which then may cause students to leave their course before the end of their learning. ‘Lack of such social networks can undermine self-confidence and self-esteem, prevent students from revising for examinations/assessments and reinforce negative feelings toward the institution, others, and self.’ (Kantanis, p4, 2000). Nevertheless, belonging and building relationships need time and energy and cannot be created instantly. ‘In the transition to HE, student experiences may be understood through feelings of ‘loss’ that may occur as their transition necessitates the construction of a new identity.’ (O’Donnell, Kean and Stevens, 2016). ‘The disposition to act in certain ways determined by cultural capital; cultural capital incorporates ways of behaving and interacting, which are acquired through interactions social institutions.’ (Thomas, 2012). Evidence shows that because of feelings of isolation, students may think to change their personalities to fit in and engage with a particular group. Which then strips away the uniqueness and mannerisms of the individual.

In conclusion, this essay discussed three challenges that transitioning students face in HE. Firstly, having poor time management and organisational skills, or no preparation done for HE, students will make slower academic progress with little engagement with the course and university life. Secondly, being a first-generation HE student comes with many disadvantages, finances would be the main issue for these students and stepping up into strange territory without the resources or support most other students have is a big challenge too. And lastly, the negative impacts of not having a sense of belonging and lack of engagement in HE such as loneliness and failure of achieving future aspirations.


  1. Denny, E., 2015. TRANSITION FROM SECOND LEVEL AND FURTHER EDUCATION TO HIGHER EDUCATION. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 June 2020].
  2. Kantanis, T., 2000. The Role Of Social Transition In Students’ Adjustment To The First-Year Of University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 June 2020].
  3. Nasrullah, S. and Saqib Khan, M., 2015. The Impact of Time Management on the Students’ Academic Achievements. Journal of Literature, Languages and Linguistics, [online] 11(2422-8435), pp.66-68. Available at: [Accessed 21 June 2020].
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  5. O’Donnell, V., Kean, M. and Stevens, G., 2016. Student Transition In Higher Education. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 June 2020].
  6. Thomas, L., 2012. Building Student Engagement And Belonging In Higher Education At A Time Of Change: Final Report From The What Works? Student Retention & Success Programme. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 June 2020].
  7. Wilbur, T. and Roscigno, V., 2016. First-generation Disadvantage and College Enrollment/Completion. Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, [online] 2, p.237802311666435. Available at: [Accessed 23 June 2020].  


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