For those who may feel unprepared, starting at University and the challenges it brings can feel overwhelming and for some, a huge step to take. Changes to ways of studying and academic learning and leaving a familiar home environment and routine, alongside a newfound independence and associated responsibilities can cause concern for many and uncertainty of what lies ahead.
“The transition to university is a complex and often difficult period of a young student’s life.” (Krause and Coates, 2008)
The University of Lincoln recognised these challenges during the work undertaken by its Student Wellbeing team in supporting prospective students prior to starting university. Alongside a disclosed diagnosis, additional concerns often emerge around new social situations and friendships, managing and regulating emotions and knowing when to seek support. To address these concerns, the university in collaboration with partners within the local community, were successful in securing Office for Students funding for a two-year project to aid prospective students in their transition from compulsory and further education.
The project, “Transitioning Students Effectively: A student led approach to mental health support”, has been running successfully since July 2019 and enables a peer-to-peer approach to support students with their mental health and wellbeing, especially during transition. A positive transition from compulsory and further education can lay the foundations for a successful journey into and throughout university and beyond. Support, advice and guidance around coping strategies and practical skills for prospective university students, can help with empowerment and aid their resilience, helping them to prepare and feel better able to cope with managing change.
The impact of Covid was of course felt by all across the sector: Professionals, academics and the students they support. The struggles that prospective students completing prior education were also facing, meant that the project was even more pertinent. Academic studies and relationships brought to a premature end meant that many pupils did not return to school or college to say goodbye to teachers or friends and formally ‘complete’ that stage of their education. Many may have felt even more ill prepared for the forthcoming move into the next stage of their lives, with virtual support replacing physical and on campus open days nationwide. There were no ways to visit or navigate new environments and no opportunities therefore, to meet new academics and peers.
Activities for the project are produced and delivered by two University of Lincoln based teams, in Student Life and Student Wellbeing. Transitional Wellbeing activities include face to face and virtual presentations to schools and colleges, on themes such as ‘Managing Change’ and ‘Emotional Fitness’. These have been produced following focus groups at local schools, to ensure that the themes and content are relatable. All prospective students and others are offered the sessions, regardless of their destination, as the team felt that challenges faced during periods of change are relevant to all.
The move to digital and virtual delivery was quickly adapted during national lockdowns, enabling provision for schools and colleges to continue. All resources produced for outreach sessions have been offered as either live, pre-recorded sessions or made available for further education providers to use themselves.
Alongside this support, the Transitional Wellbeing team have also held three successful Wellbeing Orientation Welcome or ‘WOW’ transitional summer schools in July 2019, September 2020 and July 2021. The event offers a free 3-day, 2-night stay on campus and comprehensive programme of events for any prospective students where transition may present an additional challenge. WOW has supported 157 transitional students with declared mental health concerns and qualitative data shows feedback is overwhelmingly positive for its provision.
Student-led content and resources for the project are delivered by the Digital Student Life team. These resources are also used within the outreach work of the Transitional Wellbeing team, to share lived experiences directly from students, keeping content applicable. The Digital team produce regular student podcasts and student led vlogs, which help provide further understanding of university life. Free access for all University of Lincoln students is given to the UniWellbeing hosted ‘Student Life’ app, with tips and advice on getting the most from their time at university.
The success of the project so far, shows in the blend of virtual and face-to-face provision and the project’s adaptability to continue to support pupils and students, even during a global pandemic. Feedback, focus groups and evaluation are embedded across the work of the project and are important, to consider the wellbeing of students transitioning into university and any confidence and benefit that the support provided may have given them.
The project team wish to leave a ‘legacy’ of work undertaken, to broadly share information, advice and resources to all, long after the project ends. All work produced is shared with all project partners and available on-line, for schools and colleges to use within their own practice. It is hoped that the skills students have gained from the project resources and delivery, will help them better manage change, manage their emotions and empower them for the next stage of their lives.
For queries about the project, its work, dissemination or resources please contact Zoë Mills, Project Manager on firstname.lastname@example.org
Zoë Mills – Lincoln Higher Education Research Institute
Image – Michael Krahn