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Student Perceptions on their Transition Experiences at a South African University Offering a First-Year Experience Programme

Annah Vimbai Bengesai
Vino Paideya
Prim Naidoo
Sthabiso Mkhonza


The transition from high school to university is often a challenge for many students, as they face numerous academic and social adjustments during this  time. For the 2020 cohort, these challenges were compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which further exacerbated the existing concerns and  uncertainties. This study reports on the perceptions of a cohort of first-year students enrolled in 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic regarding  their transition experiences. The analysis was carried out against the backdrop of a pilot first-year experience programme at one South African university.  Data were collected using a survey method from a sample of 299 students who had participated in the pilot programme. A multi-construct  approach was used to assess student perceptions on the success of the First-Year Experience programme in providing (i) a supportive learning  environment, (ii) assisting students to understand academic demands, and (iii) creating stimulating learning experiences with acceptable levels of  reliability (0.66-0.74). Despite facing many transitional challenges at the beginning of the academic year, student responses to questions on the above  three factors were affirmative. This suggested that students perceived their experiences of support and interactions within the university as instrumental  in assisting them to cope with transitional challenges. These findings provided the necessary guidance for the continuation and improvement of the  support given to first-year students.