Transition to higher education; prospective and retrospective student experiences

Ian Piper, Alison Faith Kelly, Hilda Mary Mulrooney


Pre-university (foundation or Level 3) study attracts significant student numbers annually, but approximately 10% of successful Level 3 students do not progress into their university degrees. This project aimed to identify the experiences of current and previous Level 3 students, using questionnaires and focus groups to explore differences by gender, ethnicity and intention to study. One hundred and two current and 56 previous level 3 students participated. Those who felt part of the university were significantly more likely to agree that the foundation course met their expectations. Personal support from academic staff, was highly ranked by students in all year groups, peaking in the final year. Despite considerable student diversity, the foundation year met expectations. However this was significantly lower for Black students compared with other ethnicities, which needs further exploration. Fostering ‘belonging’ to university is important for foundation year students to improve retention rates into their degree courses.


transition; induction; belonging; retention; support

Full Text:



Bates, E.A. & Kaye, L.K. (2014). ‘I’d be expecting caviar in lectures’: The impact of the new fee regime on undergraduate students’ expectations of higher Education. Higher Education 67(5): 655-673. DOI: 10.1007/510734-013-9671-3.

Bathmaker, M.A., & Thomas, W. (2009) Positioning themselves: an exploration of the nature and meaning of transitions in the context of dual sector FE/HE institutions in England. Journal of Further and Higher Education 33(2): 119-130. DOI: 10.1080/03098770902856652

Bowles, A., Fisher, R., McPhail, R., Rosenstreich, D. & Dobson, A. (2014). Staying the distance: students’ perceptions of enablers of transition to higher education. Higher Education Research and Development 33(2): 212-225. DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2013.832157.

Bowles, A., Dobson, A., Fisher, R., & McPhail, R. (2011). An exploratory investigation into first year student transition to university. Research and Development in Higher Education 34: 61-71. ISBN 0 908557 85 X.

Breeze, M., Johnson, K., & Uytman, C. (2018). What (and who) works in widening participation? Supporting direct entrant student transitions to higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2018.1536042.

Briggs, A.R.J., Clark, J. & Hall, I. (2012). Building bridges: understanding student transition to university. Quality in Higher Education 18(1): 3-21. DOI: 10.1080/13538322.2011.614468

Brooman, S., & Darwent, S. (2014). Measuring the beginning: a quantitative study of the transition to higher education. Studies in Higher Education 39(9): 1523-1541. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2013.801428

Burton, K., Golding Lloyd, M. & Griffin, C. (2011). Barriers to learning for mature students studying HE at an FE college. Journal of Further and Higher Education 35(1): 25-36. DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2010.540231.

Busher, H., James, N., Piela, A. & Palmer, A-M. (2014). Transforming marginalised adult learners’ views of themselves: Access to Higher Education courses in England. British Journal of Sociology of Education 35: 800-817. DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2014.919842

Busher, H., James, N. & Piela, A. (2015). On reflection: mature students’ view of teaching and learning on Access to Higher Education Courses. International Studies in Sociology of Education 25(2): 296-313. DOI: 10.1080/09620214.2015.1083405

Cheng, M., Pringle Barnes, G., Edwards, C., & Valyrakis, M. (2015a). Transition Skills and Strategies. Transition models and how students experience change. Glasgow: QAA Scotland. Available from:

Cheng, M., Pringle Barnes, G., Edwards, C., Valyrakis, M. & Corduneanu, R .(2015b). Transition Skills and Strategies. Key Transition Skills. Glasgow: QAA Scotland. Available from:

Christie, H., Munro, M. & Wager, F. (2005). Day students in higher education: Widening access students and successful transitions to university life. International Studies in Sociology of Education 15(1): 3-29. DOI: 10.1080/09620210500200129

Christie, H., Tett, L., Cree, V.E. & McCune, V. (2016). ‘It all just clicked’: a longitudinal perspective on transitions within university. Studies in Higher Education 41(3): 478-490. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2014.942271

Clayton, J., Crozier, G. & Reay, D. (2009). Home and away: risk, familiarity and the multiple geographies of the higher education experience. International Studies in Sociology of Education 19(3-4): 157-174. DOI: 10.1080/09620210903424469

Cole, J.S. (2017). Concluding comments about student transition to higher education. Higher Education 73(3): 539-551. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-016-0091-z

Crabtree, H. & Roberts, C. (2007). Understanding the Problems of Transition into higher education. Available online at:

Crossan, B., Field, J., Gallacher, J. & Merrill, B. (2003). Understanding participation in learning for non-traditional adult learners: Learning careers and the construction of learning identities. British Journal of Sociology of Education 24(1): 55-67. DOI: 10.1080/01425690301907

Denovan, A. & Macaskill, A. (2013). An interpretative phenomenological analysis of stress and coping in first year undergraduates. British Educational Research 39(6): 1002-1024. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3019

Dicker, R., Garcia, M., Kelly, A. & Mulrooney, H. (2018). What does ‘quality’ in higher education mean? Perceptions of staff, students and employers. Studies in Higher Education 44(8): 1425-1441. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1445987

Frame, P., Harwood, T., Hoult, L., Jenkins, M., Lynch, K. & Volpe, G. (2006). Transitions into Higher Education: processes, outcomes and collaborations. In: Proceedings of the Association of Tertiary Learning Advisors Aotearoa, Supporting Learning in the 21st century. Dunedin, New Zealand. Available from:

Gale, T. & Parker, S. (2014). Navigating change: a typology of student transition in higher education. Studies in Higher Education 39(5): 734-753. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2012.721351.

Gibson, S., Grace, A., O’Sullivan, C. & Pritchard, C. (2018). Exploring transitions into the undergraduate university world using a student-centred framework. Teaching in Higher Education 24(7): 819-833. DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2018.1511538

Gill, A. (2017). The transitional experiences of sport and exercise students from further to higher education. Innovative Practice in Higher Education 3(1): 22- 47. ISSN 2044-3315.

Gill, A. (2019). Student Transition into Higher Education: Exploring BTEC Sport and Exercise Students Forthcoming Transition to Higher Education Taught within a Further Education Setting. Innovative Practice in Higher Education 3(3): 90-112. ISSN: 2044‐3315

Goldring, T., Harper, E., Jassal, R., Joseph, L., Kelly, A., Mulrooney, H., Piper, I. & Walker, H. (2018). Experiences and expectations of transition to higher education: a qualitative approach. New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences 13(1). DOI: 10.29311/ndtps.v0i13.2849

Gonsalves, A., Seiler, G. & Salter, D.E. (2011). Rethinking resources and hybridity. Cultural Studies of Science Education 6: 389-399. DOI: 10.1007/s11422-010-9275-5

Hausmann, L.R.M., Schofield, J. & Woods, R. (2007). Sense of belonging as a predictor of intentions to persist among African American and White first-year college students. Research in Higher Education 48(7): 803-839. DOI: 10.1007/s11162-007-9052-9

Hoffman, M., Richmond, P.D.J., Morrow, J. & Salomone, P.D.K. (2002). Investigating ‘sense of belonging’ in first-year college students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice 4(3): 227-256. DOI: 10.2190%2FDRYC-CXQ9-JQ8V-HT4V

Holdsworth, C. (2006). ‘Don’t you think you’re missing out, living at home?’ Student experiences and residential transitions. Sociological Review 54(3): 495-519. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2006.00627.x

Hultberg, J., Plos,K., Hendry, G.D. & Kjellgren, K.I. (2008). Scaffolding students’ transition to higher education: Parallel introductory courses for students and teachers. Journal of Further and Higher Education 32(1): 47-57. DOI: 10.1080/03098770701781440

Jackson, C. (2010). Transitions into Higher Education: Gendered implications for academic self-concept. Oxford Review of Education 29(3): 331-346. DOI: 10.1080/03054980307448

James, N., Busher, H. & Suttill, B. (2015). Using habitus and field to explore Access to Higher Education students' learning identities. Studies in the Education of Adults 47(1): 4-20. DOI: 10.1080/02660830.2015.11661671

Jindal-Snape, D. (2010) Educational Transitions: Moving Stories from Around the World. New York: Routledge. ISBN: 9780415647434 0415647436 9780415805919 0415805910

Kuh, G., Kinsey, J., Buckley, J., Bridges, B.K. & Hayek, J.C. (2006). What matters to student success: A review of the literature. Report commissioned for the National Symposium on Postsecondary Student Success: Spearheading a Dialog on Student Success. Available from:

Laing, C., Robinson, A. & Johnston, V. (2005). Managing the transition into higher education. An online Spiral Induction Programme. Active Learning in Higher Education 6(3): 243-255. DOI: 10.1177%2F1469787405059575

Leese, M. (2010). Bridging the gap: supporting student transitions into higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education 34(2): 239-251. DOI: 10.1080/03098771003695494

Maunder, R.E., Cunliffe, M., Galvin, J., Mjali, S. & Rogers, J. (2013). Listening to student voices: student researchers exploring undergraduate experiences of university transition. Higher Education 66: 139-152. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-012-9595-3

Money, J., Nixon, S., Tracy, F., Hennessy, C., Ball, E. & Dinning, T. (2017). Undergraduate student expectations of university in the United Kingdom: What really matters to them? Cogent Education 4: 1301855. DOI:10.1080/2331186X.2017.1301855

O’Donnell, V.L. & Tobbell, J. (2007). The transition of adult students to Higher Education: legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice? Adult Education Quarterly 57(4): 312-328. DOI: 10.1177%2F0741713607302686

O’Donnell, V.L., Kean, M. & Stevens, G. (2016). Student transition in higher education. Higher Education Academy. Available from:

O’Shea, S.E. (2015). Filling up silences – first in family students, capital and university talk in the home. International Journal of Lifelong Education 34(2): 1-17. DOI: 10.1080/02601370.2014.980342

O’Shea, S. (2016). First-in-family learners and higher education: Negotiating the ‘silences’ of university transition and participation. HERDSA Review of Higher Education 3: 5-23. Available from:

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

Price, M., Handley, K. & Millar, J. (2011). Feedback: Focusing attention on Engagement. Studies in Higher Education 36(8): 879-896. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2010.483513

Ramsay A., Raven, J. & Hall, M. (2005). Changing the learning environment to promote deep learning approaches in first-year accounting students. Accounting Education 13(4): 489-505. DOI: 10.1080/0963928042000306837

Reay, D. (2008). Class, Authenticity and the Transition to Higher Education for Mature Students. Sociological Review 50 (3): 398-418. DOI: 10.1111/1467-954X.00389

Reay, D., Crozier, G. & Clayton, J. (2010). ‘Fitting in’ or ‘standing out’: working –class students in UK higher education. British Educational Research Journal 36(1): 107-124. DOI: 10.1080/01411920902878925

Singh, G. (2009). Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students’ participation in higher education: improving retention and success. UK: Higher Education Academy. Available from:

Southall, J., Wason, H. & Avery, A. (2016). Non-traditional, commuter students and their transition to Higher Education – a synthesis of recent literature to enhance understanding of their needs. Student Engagement and Experience Journal 5 (1): 1-15. DOI: 10.7190/seej.v4i1.128

Stevenson, J. (2012). Black Minority Ethnic Student Degree Retention and Attainment. UK: Higher Education Academy. Available from:

Strayhorn, T.L. (2012). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success. New York: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9780203118924

Tett, L., Cree, V.E. & Christie, H. (2017). From further to higher education: transition as an on-going process. Higher Education 73: 389-406. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-016-0101-1

Thomas, L. (2011). Do pre-entry interventions such as ‘AimHigher’ impact on student retention and success? A review of the literature. Higher Education Quarterly 65(3): 230-250. DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2273.2010.00481.x

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: HEA/Paul Hamlyn Foundation. Available from:

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tobolowsky, B.F. (2008). Sophomores in transition: The forgotten year. New Directions for Higher Education 144: 59-67. DOI: 10.1002/he.326

Vryonides, M. (2007). Social and cultural capital in educational research: Issues of operationalism and measurement. British Educational Research Journal 33(6): 867-885. DOI: 10.1080/01411920701657009.

Wainwright, E. & Watts, M. (2019). Social mobility in the slipstream: first-generation students’ narratives of university participation and family. Educational Review. DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2019.1566209

Wainwright, E. & Marandet, E. (2010). Parents in higher education: impacts of university learning on the self and the family. Educational Review 62: 449-465. DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2010.48764

Waite, S. (2013). ‘Knowing your place in the world’: how place and culture support and obstruct educational aims. Cambridge Journal of Education 43: 413-433. DOI: 10.1080/0305764X.2013.792787

Zepke, N., & Leach, L. (2010). Improving student engagement: Ten proposals for action. Active Learning in Higher Education 11(3): 167-77. DOI: 10.1177%2F1469787410379680


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
We use both functional and performance cookies to improve visitor experience. Continue browsing if you are happy to accept cookies. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.

New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences

eISSN: 2051-3615