Transitioning to College and Beyond: A Reflection

Josh Alvarez, Membership Coordinator

February 10, 2019

 Intrigued by the line “access without support is not opportunity” (Tinto, 2008), I began reading articles on the student transition from high school to college.  What does support look like during the college transition?  How, as student affairs professionals, can we relate the college transition to the transition to the professional world?  What I learned is there are several transition models that colleges and universities employ.  These models fall within one of three transition categories: Transition as Induction, Transition as Development, and Transition as Becoming. 

Transition as Induction argues that the best way for students to transition is for higher education institutions to manage the first-year experience through staff interactions, out-of-class activities, and engaged learning (Gale & Parker, 2014).  First-year seminars and first-year orientation programs come to mind as examples of Induction.  A critical eye will note that Induction requires students to navigate existing systems and cultures.  This transition model highlights institutional privileging and makes it difficult for students to create their own path.  This model does not hold up well for students who need to take a break from school or if the student does not “fit” with the institution. 

Transition as Development creates avenues for the student to explore their own identities as they move from one community to another.  For Development, students separate from a previous group, transition and interact with a new group, and either incorporate or integrate into a new community.  Students are described as “becoming somebody” (Ecclestone, Biesta, Hughes, 2010).  Development is a linear process meaning that what is experienced cannot be unexperienced.  Both Induction and Development ask for students to adopt identities and cultures that may or may not align with their life trajectories. 

As I read through these two transition models, I reflected on my own experience transitioning to college, grad school, and the student affairs world.  In many ways, I could argue that I am still transitioning to the higher education environment.  There have been times where I felt that I belonged on campus and times where I didn’t have a home and that there weren’t others like me.  The transition to graduate school felt more isolating, yet I was more motivated to earn my Master’s degree.  I would describe the transition into my first student affairs job as Induction.  I went through orientation, training, and found there was little room for my experiences, ideas, and skills to manifest in a way that aligned with my values.  Today, I am still learning new things about my identities and how I have and continue to show up in spaces.  My reflections on my transition experiences gravitated me toward Transition as Becoming. 

 Transition as Becoming sees students as complex and multidimensional.  Students are not just college students.  They are also someone’s sibling, a veteran, a parent, a full-time or part-time worker, and so much more.  Students also experience unforeseen events and crises throughout their academic career.  Becoming allows for fluidity in the transition experience.  Becoming understands that students are constantly negotiating who they are at home, at school, or at work.  Transitioning to college is not the same for all students and the college transition does not end after the first semester or first year of college.  Becoming argues for institutional practices and policies that allow students to change programs of study, withdraw, or stop out without penalty.  The transition experience should be reinvisioned with an appreciation for a holistic person that is also a student.  Not all students are the same and Transition as Becoming recognizes this. 

For those reading this, I challenge you to reflect on your experience transitioning to college and beyond.  What supports were available to you?  Did you incorporate or integrate into the campus environment?  What institutional policies or practices helped or hindered your growth and exploration as a person and student?  Did you experience an event or crisis that impacted your student identity or academic career?  We all play a role in someone’s transition experience whether they are entering college for the first time, going to grad school, or starting their first professional job.  Let’s remember to look at people through a holistic lens.  Let’s allow for fluid transitions to academia or the workforce.  Let’s be supportive.

Ecclestone, K., Biesta, G., & Hughes, M. (2010). Transitions in the lifecourse: The role of identity, agency, and structure. In K. Ecclestone, G. Biesta, & M. Hughes, Transitions and learning through the lifecourse (pp. 1-15). London: Routledge.

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

Tinto, V. (2008). Access without support is not opportunity. 36th Annual Institute for Chief Academic Officers. Seattle: The Council of Independent Colleges.

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