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Transition distress: a psychological processIt will come as no surprise to anybody working within higher education, that many students find the transition into university emotionally and psychologically difficult. We clearly understand that students going through transition can experience psychological distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, a reduction in self-esteem and isolation.1–5 Many students describe a loss of feelings of control, and doubts about whether or not to stay at their new university. This is particularly concerning for universities, as research has identified that successful transition is a key element in determining retention and future student success.6–10 While most of us probably recognise all of this, there is often less understanding about why some students find transition so difficult, and more importantly, what we can do about it. In the last few years, I and my colleagues in Student Wellbeing at the University of Derby have been researching student transition in order to develop better interventions to support new students. Our research, and the research of many others in the field, suggests that we may need to rethink some of the ways in which we approach transition, if we want to provide our students with the most effective support. In this article, I briefly describe some of our work so far (some of which has been published and presented elsewhere), and propose a new model of transition. I do this with one important caveat. As George Box said: ‘All models are wrong, but some models are useful.’11 I don’t pretend that this model encapsulates every single student’s experience but I hope it may provide a useful way of thinking about what our students may be experiencing, how we can target our support and how this learning can be used to good effect in the therapy room.
Which aspects of university life are most and least helpful in the transition to HE? A qualitative snapshot of student perceptionsWhilst there is a significant consensus, in the literature, that student transition to HE plays a major role in future academic performance and success, there is, as yet, no broad agreement as to how best to support students during this process. Theoretical accounts of transition offer some direction to educators but acting on these accounts may be problematic, as many students do not understand the process they are experiencing or the needs of their new environment. Without this understanding, well-developed interventions may fail to gain student engagement at that time. A better understanding of which aspects of university life do seem most relevant to students, during transition, may help universities to better target their support. This qualitative study requested two cohorts of students to respond to two open statements, seeking to identify which aspects of their experience they found most and least helpful. In this way it was hoped to gain some insight into which aspects of university life were most dominant in their thinking. To identify key themes, among which were (1) social support, (2) psychological mind-set and lifestyle, and (3) university actions, 498 responses were received, coded and analysed. Academic concerns did not appear to be a significant theme. The findings of this study suggest that transition support may gain better student engagement if it is initially focused on social integration and student wellbeing and lifestyle. Universities may also wish to pay more attention to the impact of administrative processes failing to meet student needs in the transition period.