ToolKit - English

1. What are the challenges first-year students face when transitioning to university?

Do particular groups face specific challenges?

What has been published on this topic in recent years?

In the START project we have grouped the challenges students face when transitioning to university in four interrelated categories. Explore START Categories of Challenges here. Do not forget to hover the icons and dots so you can get some illustrations of the categories. You will be able to see how international research findings correspond (or not) to your own experience.

If you see particular subgroups of students among your own university’s first years, you might find these figures helpful in starting to reflect upon, or deepening your reflection about, their particular transition needs and expectations. These are based on personal experiences of academics working with first-year students in partner universities in France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Spain.

Finally, here you can find the full list of references on which START Categories of Challenges are based.

2. Seriousness of the Challenges for First Year Students:

What are the actual experiences of first year university students?

What questions can I ask myself or my institution to help better understand the challenges of my first year university students?

We looked at the research and we know that the transition to university life can be challenging for many students, for many different reasons. In order to best support them, It is important to have an awareness of the difficulties they may face. That is why we have collected some powerful quotes from first year students about the challenges they have experienced during their first year at university. Click here to explore the student voices.

Research relating to first year students’ experience and attrition varies greatly across institutions and countries, and issues affecting any given university may not be immediately apparent.  To help you identify where your university sits in relation to this issue, we have collated a range of questions that will help you inquire further into first year student experiences in your own setting. Click here to engage with what we believe can be some thought-provoking questions.

3. What can you do to find out more about the transition experience of your own students?

Below are the questions you can ask your students, ways to engage with your students in order to ask these questions, and a collection of tools you can use to learn more about your students’ experience:

4. Are you in charge of conducting professional development sessions at your university?

Below are some ready-made resources designed with instructional developers and/or educational trainers in mind. You can use them in order to facilitate a training, workshop, or webinar aimed at creating awareness among teaching teams about transition to higher education and the role academics can play in facilitating this transition.

1. A checklist for those teaching first-year students to reflect on students’ transition – This checklist can help academics to become aware of beneficial resources and practices that can facilitate the transition period at the university. This is a generic version, which can be adapted to each particular institutional context.

2. Materials for two professional development sessions focused on raising academics’ awareness of challenges students experience in their transition to higher education (PPTs with detailed explanations for conducting the sessions).

2.1 What Challenges do Students Experience when Transitioning to Higher Education & Why does it Matter?

2.2 Becoming aware of the students YOU have: what do you need to know about your students and how you can get to know this?

Both sessions were conducted in the framework of the START Project and the materials shared above reflect the lessons learned while piloting the sessions.

3. A Glossary of key terms – Higher Education ‘vocabulary’ that Academics can use with Students (to make sure students understand these terms) 

Please note that you can also use any of the resources from the other four sections as discussion-openers in a professional development session or even in a programme/department team meeting.

5. Why is it important to be aware of the multiple challenges different students might experience during their transition to Higher Education?

Why, if you are teaching first-year students, you need to try and find out how your students are experiencing transition to Higher Education?

Because those in charge of first-year students’ academic experience have a special role to play. Explore the ACADEMICS CAN section to see how much those teaching and designing first-year courses can do to facilitate student transition. Check this section also if you are in charge of an undergraduate programme or are one of the university authorities.

You can make a difference if you are:

Teaching first-year students

If you are teaching first-year students and want to support them in transition to Higher Education, here is what research says you can do - even if the course you teach has been designed by somebody else.

(Re)Designing first-year courses

If you are (re)designing a course for first-year students or can revise your course in order to better supports students in transition to Higher Education, here is what research says you can do.

In charge of an undergraduate programme

If you are coordinating an undergraduate programme, here is what research says you can do in order to make sure diverse students on your programme are better supported in their transition to higher education.

One of the university authorities

If you are a representative of university authorities, here is what research says can and should do to better support diverse students in their transition to higher education.

For more quotes from research publications demonstrating that Academics have substantial influence on student transition to higher education, and pointing out ways in which Academics have been shown to have such influence see START “Academics can” Compilation of Quotes with references.


Critically using and creating knowledge by engaging with disciplinary discourses and formulating arguments