New Students

Transition into University (the W Curve)

Using the 'W-Curve' to highlight the stages of transition that your 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 and your student that this is normal and the pattern of the feelings when going through a major life change is actually quite predictable. We use the 'W-Curve' to help demonstrate this transition for your student.  

This model is based on research done with students studying abroad and highlights the phases that all students will go through in adapting to University life.

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

Typically starts when students are made their offers and the excitement and anxiety build when the prospect of going to University becoming a reality – it builds over the summer especially as they get letters with more information, accommodation offers, exam results and the planning to get started, ready to take on their new adventures!

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 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 feel lost
  • Excitement about living with a roommate and on their own wears off
  • Adjustment to new surroundings and expectations are hard to adjust to
  • Academic expectations are harder than anticipated
  • Homesickness may become stronger, (some students may try to deal with this by maintaining strong ties to their home and 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 academic and social environments of college

Mental Isolation (beginning of Semester Two)

This refers to a period during and straight after the student goes home, for example at Christmas time. It comes from the unease of expecting everything at home to remain the same as it has before, but perhaps a sibling has moved into their room, their friends at home have moved away.

It can also come from the opposite feeling that they are disappointed that their old life hasn't changed at all, but they have and don't feel that they fit in anymore. When they return to University, there a period once again of adjustment.

Typical characteristics:

  • Shock over finding changes that have happened at home and not having been a part of them
  • A feeling of homesickness for a home environment that no longer seems to exist
  • Doubts regarding choice in college, major, 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 of the university culture
  • 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, hobbies - anything!

Typical characteristics:

  • Students begin to refer to college 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 and former peers begins to lessen

Related links 

New Student Homepage 

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