1. Introduction

2. Academic

3. Personal

4. Social

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Students walking towards a University building

Supporting student induction and transitions

This resource looks at how to support students’ transition into the University and through their programme. It covers academic, social and personal transitions.

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Why focus on induction and transitions?

  • Arriving at university can involve many types of transition, such as adapting to a new learning culture, meeting new people, living in a different place, and changing your sense of identity. Students’ expectations of University study can be quite different from the reality.
  • Students have to learn a huge amount in the early weeks, and some can find the process overwhelming, so they need support at this critical time. The first year of undergraduate study, or the early weeks of a PGT programme, can be critical to students’ development and academic success.
  • The University is not a neutral space and some students will find it easier to adapt to university life than others. Supporting students’ transition to university is critical for widening participation and developing an inclusive environment in which all students are supported to succeed. Research has shown that a sense of belonging is crucial for student retention and success - carefully designed transition support can help to nurture a sense of belonging.
  • Students don’t just experience transition on arrival at university but throughout their studies, so it’s important to be mindful of transitions throughout a programme.

How to use this guide

This guide is concerned with how academic departments can support students’ transition into and through the University. It focuses on supporting transitions in three areas: academic life, social relations, and personal life. All of these are important for student retention and success. Of course, in reality, there is overlap between these areas.

The guide also includes a ‘transitions timeline’ with suggestions of actions to take at different stages.

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Transitions timeline

Students will experience transitions in different ways and on different timescales, but there are some particular points in time where you may want to focus on transitions support.

Actions Useful information/resources
Work with schools and colleges to help prospective students understand and prepare for university study.
Send out pre-arrival information about the department and the programme. Include information about studying at university and how it is different to school/college. Students often have questions about your department. Make sure you provide clear contact information. Examples:
Use post-offer open days to help prospective students to familiarise themselves with the University, meet students and staff, and gain a deeper understanding of University life. Meeting current students from a similar background helps prospective students to envisage themselves at University.
Set students a short academic task or some reading to prepare for a session when they arrive.
You can provide more in-depth transitions support through a specific event or programme. Example of the Health Sciences School's New Starter Programme
Provide opportunities for peer support from current students, e.g. mentoring, social media communities, student ambassadors, student blogs.
Direct students to relevant guidance and support.
On arrival (the first week)

For many students this will be orientation week (September/February) and/or intro week (September). However, make sure that induction materials and support are available for students who arrive at different times of year, or who transition in partway through a programme.

Actions Useful information/resources
Introduce students to their department and programme. Provide appropriate information about the course and timetable.
Set students a short academic task or some reading to prepare for a session.
Enable students to meet relevant staff, for example their personal tutor and the staff who will be teaching them.
Help students to get to know each other. For example, set them a group task, incorporate group discussion into induction sessions, or organise a departmental social event. You could work with your departmental student society.
Provide students with information about University services and processes, but try to avoid information overload in the first week.
Make students aware of orientation and intro week activities. Help them to navigate through this busy time, which can be overwhelming. Provide department-specific information where possible.
Students value information that is relevant to their specific course and department. Here are some examples of guides that help students with academic transitions in the early weeks.

The early months

You should view induction to the programme and the University as an ongoing process, taking several months (or, for undergraduate students, potentially the entire first year).

  • Provide/reiterate information when it is needed (not all at the beginning). Store it online so that students can access it when they need it.
  • Help students to feel that they belong in your Department and at the University. Create a welcoming and inclusive culture; treat students as individuals.
  • Be explicit about your expectations of students in terms of learning and teaching methods, independent study, and assessment.
  • Focus on building academic skills and integrate this into the curriculum.
  • Create opportunities for developing peer relations and friendships.
Transitions support later in the programme

The structure of every programme is different but you may be able to identify points where students tend to struggle, for example:

  • changing course or University partway through a programme
  • transitioning between levels of study
  • before and after placements
  • before and after studying abroad
  • engaging with difficult threshold concepts
  • coming to the end of a programme

Think about how you can shape your curriculum to support students through any difficult moments. To bridge different phases of a programme, it may be helpful to get students to reflect on what they have learned and what knowledge and skills they can take forward to the next part of the programme.

The Careers Service can support you with integrating employability and skills development into your curriculum.

Careers also provide extensive resources to help students prepare for and manage the transition to life after their University programme:

Careers Service: Current Students

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Links and Downloads

See also Elevate’s Who are your learners? guidance