Mini-series: Start as we mean to go on

Photo credit: Alice Donovan, Unsplash CC0

In this Mini-Series on ‘Embedding Belonging in the Classroom’, Kirsty Stewart, from the Careers Service, chats to us about how Making Transitions Personal can help students prepare for the future, and instil a sense of belonging before they even arrive on campus…


Research shows that engaging with students early can help with their sense of belonging by enabling both students and staff to understand students’ expectations and increase student engagement. The Making Transitions Personal (MTP) Pre-arrival and Start-of-year Reviews is an initiative that aims to support this through a set of targeted reflective questions given to students before the start of the academic year. Currently 75% of schools use MTP and the process and the information coming out of the responses can benefit the students, their personal tutors, their schools and the university, and can be a powerful tool in supporting student belonging.


The reviews are designed to assist schools and the university to enhance students’ transitions into and through university, to help us get to know our students from the outset, and to aid students reflect on their motivations for coming to university and what they want to get out of their time with us, as well as to highlight any concerns they might have.

The reviews consist of a set of around eight questions focusing on students’ motivations, aspirations and expectations for their university experience and actions they might take to achieve their goals along with the support they might require in order to do so. While coordinated centrally, the web link to the reviews is sent out by each school in order to foster a feeling of connectedness between each student and their school.

Students have told us that completing the review was a valuable and helpful exercise for them as individuals and in making them feel welcomed and cared for by the university. However, the real value comes from staff engaging with students’ responses as the reviews can provide a real insight into our students at various levels: individual, school, college and university.

How to engage

There are a number of ways schools can engage with student responses. At the one-to-one level, student responses are stored in the Student Record for relevant staff to access. For example, a personal tutor may have access to the responses in order to discuss specific issues and concerns raised by the student. This approach can really help to support the development of a positive relationship between student and personal tutor.

Schools are also provided with a report of all student responses that can be reviewed by staff to identify anything of concern that might need targeted follow-up, which enables potential issues to be addressed at the early stages of a student’s university journey.

Additionally, analysis reports are passed to each school ahead of Welcome Week, highlighting common themes within students’ responses for each school and can provide areas to address at the cohort level. For example, each year, one school addresses the large portion of their students concerned about career planning by organising the Careers Consultant for that school and running a workshop for students on that topic. Having an overview of the sorts of things concerning or exciting students can be invaluable for staff and schools in allowing a more tailored approach. Practice like this can also help normalise the worries or concerns that students may have and therefore really help to enhance that feeling of belonging.

We know from students that it is critical for their engagement with the review to be at least acknowledged. Sometimes this isn’t possible, appropriate or necessary within schools’ one-to-one interactions, so centrally we send out an individualised email to all students with links to resources and support they might be interested in based on the responses they gave in their review.

By asking relevant questions at a point of transition, students can feel cared for and valued, and prompted to engage meaningfully with their year ahead. By engaging with their responses, either individually or collectively, we, as staff, are better equipped to respond and embed a sense of community, nurture and belonging.

Get involved

For more information about the Making Transitions Personal approach in general and a link to our SharePoint site containing recent reports and the process for using the reviews in your school, take a look at our website.

If you or colleagues are interested in implementing the Pre-arrival or Start-of-year reviews, or if you would like to talk about ways to follow up with your students then please contact us – or

Kirsty Stewart

Kirsty Stewart is the Edinburgh Award Coordinator at the University of Edinburgh. Coming from a background in higher education Careers Service work and offshore logistics, in 2013 she joined the University’s Employability Consultancy and is now responsible for supporting the expansion, enhancement and day-to-day running of the Edinburgh Award, providing informed advice and support to academic and non-academic staff across the University and facilitating increased student uptake of the Award.

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