Students' Perceptions and Experiences with Key Factors during the Transition from High School to College

By Smith, William L.; Zhang, Pidi | College Student Journal, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Students' Perceptions and Experiences with Key Factors during the Transition from High School to College


Smith, William L., Zhang, Pidi, College Student Journal


Parents, friends, high school teachers and guidance counselors, college professors and academic advisors, college orientation programs, and first-year seminars play a role in facilitating students' transition from high school to college. This paper assesses the frequency of activities linked to the transition process and how helpful these behaviors are for students at a medium-sized state university in the Southeast. Mothers provide the greatest number of helping behaviors and are the most helpful resource in the transition process. There are extensive gender and racial differences in the students' perception of helpfulness and the reported number of times students receive help. Even though students believe they receive a lot of help from or rate helpful certain factors, the perceived degree of helpfulness may not be reflected in their GPAs.

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The higher education literature is replete with studies about the transition to college (Goldrick-Rab, Carter, & Wagner, 2007, p. 2445) but more research is needed regarding the transition process (Locks, Hurtado, Bowman, & Oseguera, 2008, p. 257) because scholars have neglected to study, among other important topics, how students perceive the factors that influence their transition experience (Clark, 2005, p. 296). Weidman (1989) recognizes the role precollege and college factors play in the socialization experience of college students. Impact models, such as Weidman's (1989) model of undergraduate socialization, focus on social structure and study the influence of institutional characteristics, student experiences, and student interactions on the transition experience (see Feldman & Newcomb, 1969; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Hurtado, 2007).

First-generation students are at greater risk for a difficult transition from high school to college (Pascarella et al., 2004; Pike & Kuh, 2005; Ishitani, 2006) and students who are academically and socially involved experience a smoother transition to college and are more likely to return for their sophomore year (Tinto, 1998, p. 169). This transition is further enhanced when there is collaborative programming between secondary and postsecondary institutions (Karp & Hughes, 2008) and by the type of college-linking strategy used by high schools (Hill, 2008). While academic intensity and the quality of one's high school curriculum are crucial for academic success and making a smooth transition to college (Adelman, 2002), other factors such as parents, friends, high school teachers and guidance counselors, college professors, academic advisors, college orientation programs, and first-year seminars facilitate students' transition from high school to college (Cabrera & La Nasa, 2000; Tierney, Corwin, & Colyar, 2005; Kelly, Kendrick, Newgent, & Lucas, 2007; Saunders & Serna, 2004; Hossler, Schmit, & Vesper, 1999; Attinasi, 1989; Hurtado, Carter, & Spuler, 1996).

Hurtado, Carter, and Spuler (1996, p. 153) found that peer support was an important factor in making the transition to college, although they acknowledged that some of this support might produce negative outcomes such as the lack of good study habits. Cabrera and La Nasa (2000, p. 7) and Hossler, Schmit, and Vesper (1999, p. 27) identify parental encouragement as the strongest factor predicting students' planning for college. Hurtado, Carter, and Spuler (1996, p. 153) found that college academic advisors were important factors in facilitating students' transition to college, while Kelly, Kendrick, Newgent, and Lucas (2007) indicate that fifty percent of the students they studied did not receive any help from their high school guidance counselors regarding college.

Pascarella (2005, p. 132) concludes that during the first year of college, students' "interactions with peers can have a significant influence on first-year intellectual growth." Social support networks are important factors in helping students cope with the transition to college (Kenny & Stryker, 1996; Hays & Oxley, 1986; Phinney & Haas, 2003). …

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