Successful transitions: Supporting students as they start university 

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In this post, Lesley Kelly, Academic Developer at the Institute for Academic Development, highlights the university’s multiple initiatives aimed at helping incoming students develop necessary and effective study skills…

Starting University is an exciting but challenging time for our students. Many students are moving away from home for the first time, often to a new city and sometimes to a new country. Some are working out how they will balance studying with part-time work, family commitments and caring responsibilities. Making a successful transition to University level study may not be foremost in the minds of our new students as they sort out accommodation, make new friends or adapt to a new language and culture. But there are things we can do to make sure students are thinking about how they are going to study effectively and that they know where to go if they need help 

This year, students will face additional challenges. As the University moves to a hybrid model of teaching, we (the Taught Student Development team at the Institute for Academic Development) are thinking about how we can best support students in making the transition to hybrid learning. For new and returning students, we will emphasise that effective study techniques are similar, whether students are learning on campus, online or both. There will be some specific advice to support learning online but the broad principles are the same. We will encourage students to engage fully with their learning, whatever the ‘mode’, to participate in discussions and to reach out to other students in their classes, wherever they may be.  

We support new undergraduate students in a number of ways. Our pre-arrival and Welcome Week workshops on ‘How to Succeed at University’ take place online and (usually) on campus. The main purpose of the workshops is to get students talking to each other while considering the topics ‘What is University level study like?’ ‘How do I get everything done?’ ‘Where do I go if I get stuck?’ and How can I achieve my best marks’? We touch briefly on expectations, time management, independent learning, developing your academic voice, effective study techniques and knowing where to go to access all the services available to support students. These topics are covered in greater depth in our subsequent workshops.  

During Welcome Week we visit a number of Schools and Programmes to provide brief introductions to the IAD core programme of support for students. We can’t speak to everyone and so we also rely on Programme Administrators to signpost to our services in Course Handbooks and other information for students. Our Study Hub online learning resources and blog are open access and available 24/7. These resources cover a range of topics including reading at university, academic writing, critical thinking and time management. Throughout the year we offer workshops for Undergraduates and for Postgraduate Taught students, both online and on campus (when it is safe to do so). Finally, through our one to one study skills consultations we offer a half hour appointment with one of our friendly study development advisers. We help students to find their own solutions in developing effective study strategies and enhancing their approach to academic work. 

We also work with staff in Schools to develop sessions on making transitions to Honours level and to Postgraduate level study. We refer to the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework to help students see how requirements and expectations change as they progress through the levels of study, with a particular focus on developing their critical thinking skills. 

From our conversations with students and staff, we know that students prefer to receive support for their academic development in the context of their subject or discipline. This is particularly true for some groups, including widening participation students (Howieson & Minty 2019). Courses and programmes that embed skills development into the core curriculum are very much encouraged by our team, as are Peer learning and support projects. This support is vital for new undergraduates as they make the transition to University life and learning 

Further Resources


Howieson, C & Minty, S (2019) Supporting Widening Participation Students at University Centre for Educational Sociology, Briefing 67  

Lesley Kelly

Lesley Kelly is an Academic Developer in the Taught Student Development team at the Institute for Academic Development. Her role includes supporting academic development in the curriculum and supporting work-based learning.

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