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Description: First year in University is hard and that is a good thing. That is a widely shared sentiment but how do people actually mean it? Is it good because it “weeds out” lower functioning, less serous students? Is it because adversity (as in a deep-end immersion into the “real world”) is simply good for you at that point in development? Or is it, as I have suggested elsewhere in these postings (search Life Design), that first year is the first tangible part of a developmental transition opportunity that, if risen to, can lead to a richer, more fulfilled life? Like me, the authors of the article linked below have gathered data on first year students’ experiences and argue for the latter of the alternative interpretations offered above. Before you read the article make up a mental list of what you think or recall of the challenges faced by first year university or college students. After reading the article click on the comment link down at the bottom of the article and have a look at the quite diverse array of comments offered by many people who had a first-year experiences in the past. The range of comments, while not formal “data” are quite interesting and informative.

Source: First-year university is hard – and that’s OK, Shauna Pomerantz and Dawn Zinga, the Globe and Mail.

Date: August 31, 2018

Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail, Camille Pomerlo.

Article Links:  

The article itself provides a general overview of what the first-year experience might involve. The authors are also assuming that the first-year students they have in mind have mostly moved away from home to attend their first year.  While the experiences of “commuter” students are similar in many ways to those of residence students there are some key differences which can make for experience differences. For example, there is likely a different experience to being on your own at university of college when you still live at home. The comments at the end of the article are particularly interesting I find as many of them express one or another version of a “suck it up buttercup” sentiment that buys wholesale the characterization of first year students “these days” (and especially those not in a professional program) as “bubble wrapped” or “snow-flakes”  who were never taught how to bear down and get going when things get tough. As a long-term instructor of first year students I really have not seen very many students that fit these negative stereotypes, and neither, it seems, did the authors of the linked article. That said, the advice to parents is well taken. Data on adaptation to university and identity development supports the notion that first-year can be a great developmental launching point and that a lot of how that goes for students depends upon how they approach their time at university. Get engaged and it can be a heck of an interesting ride with life-long positive outcomes.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What makes first year at university or college difficult for many students?
  2. Is the first-year experience significantly different for today’s students than it was for their parents?
  3. How might you respond to some of the sorts of “suck it up and get to work on life” statements in the comments section following the linked article?

References (Read Further):

Nijsten, C. (2016). Fluid Identity and Cultural Sensitivity in Youth.

Kift, S. (2015). A decade of transition pedagogy: A quantum leap in conceptualizing the first year experience. HERDSA Review of Higher Education, 2, 51-86.

Boyes, Michael C., Pearson, Ilana and Ursenbach, Jacob M. (under review) Identity Processing Style and Supportive Resource Engagement.