Transition to university: the role played by emotion



Prof Wendy McMillan

Faculty of Dentistry

Tygerberg Campus

University of the Western Cape

Private Bag X1


Western Cape


South Africa

Tel: +27 21 937 3084

Fax: +27 21 931 2287



Students experience transition to university as challenging. Recent studies implicate emotion in university success. This article reports on a pilot study to examine the extent to which school to university transition is experienced as emotional. Understanding the role of emotion in this transition can inform mechanisms for student support. This qualitative study used focus group interviews to elicit insider accounts of transition. The pilot cohort consisted of a tutorial group of twenty-eight students from within the class of one hundred and eight-first-year students at one Faculty of Dentistry in South Africa. Three focus group interviews were conducted. Issues identified in the literature as significant were used to analyse the data. Eleven descriptive tags related to transition and associated with emotion were identified from the data. These were clustered into four themes – ‘academic challenges’, ‘friends and family’, ‘outside constraints’ and ‘identity’. Findings suggest that emotions are a natural part of the experience of transition. Drawing on insights of students' emotional needs, it is suggested that students in transition need a roadmap and a guide. A framework, to be used as a roadmap, is suggested. Peer mentoring is discussed as a mechanism for mediating the framework and thus for supporting students in the transition.