New Students

Transition into University (the W Curve)

Explore the 'W-Curve' and find out more about the stages of transition that a student is likely to experience in their first year.

W Curve

Transitioning into University is a big change for your student and it can take time for them to really feel settled into their new lives. We want to reassure you that this is normal and the pattern of feelings when going through a major life change can be quite predictable. We use the 'W-Curve' to help demonstrate the different phases of transition.   

This model is based on research undertaken with students studying abroad and highlights the phases that all students go through when adapting to university life. 

Honeymoon period (before and within 2/3 weeks of Semester One)

Typically this starts when students are made an offer. Their excitement and anxiety builds over the summer as the prospect of going to University becomes a reality – especially as they get letters with more information (including accommodation offers) and they start to plan for their new adventure! 

Typical characteristics:

  • Enthusiasm and desire to meet new people
  • Wanting to get away from home and start out on their own
  • Homesickness mixed in with all the fun and energy of their new experience

Culture Shock (halfway through Semester One)

This phase can happen a few weeks after they have started here, and it usually a shock to students. It happens generally when the realisation of settling down hits, and perhaps they are finding elements of University life are not what they expected. It is also typically the coldest and darkest time of year and the pressure builds up towards the end of term assessments. 

Typical characteristics:

  • Difficulty finding their way around and feeling lost
  • Excitement about living with roommates and independently wears off
  • Difficulty in adjusting to new surroundings and academic expectations 

  • Homesickness - some students may deal with this by going home often 

Initial Adjustment (towards the end of Semester One)

This phase is an up-swing most likely to change when they start to understand the academic expectations and have received good feedback on their progress. Things start to make sense and they feel adjusted to their new environment and way of life. It is during this stage that students feel more “at home” on campus. 

Typical characteristics:

  • Students begin to make friends outside of their initial connections
  • Fall into a routine and gain confidence in their ability to handle new academic and social environments.

Mental Isolation (beginning of Semester Two)

This refers to a period during and straight after, a student has returned home, for example at Christmas time. It comes from the unease of expecting everything at home to remain the same and finding that it hasn’t, perhaps a sibling has moved into their room or friends at home have moved away. 

It can also come from the opposite feeling- being disappointed that their old life hasn't changed whilst they have and they feel like they no longer fit in. When they return to University, there a period of adjustment once again. 

Typical characteristics:

  • Shock at finding that changes have happened at home 

  • A feeling of homesickness for a home environment that no longer seems to exist 

  • Doubts regarding choice in university, degree, career and other decisions begin to surface 

  • Beliefs and values begin to be challenged and they may not be able to adapt to the ideas and values expressed by others at university 

  • Students tend to sit alone in their room or find outlets to escape potential housing situations  

  • Cliques may form and students may feel that getting to know others is harder than before 

Acceptance & Integration (halfway through Semester Two and beyond)

This is the final stage, ending on a high! This phase happens when they get into the swing of things quickly and adjust to a real sense of belonging and connection to the University. This could be in the city, through their course, through their accommodation, society involvement, or hobbies.

Typical characteristics:

  • Students refer to university as their “home” 

  • They feel as though they are part of their new environment/community 

  • New friends are made on and off-campus 

  • Home values are reconciled with university values 

  • Dependence on parents, supporters, or former peers begins to lessen 

Related links 

New Student Homepage 

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