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Ricardio Madden | The first-year dilemma: Are they ready for university?

Published:Sunday | December 1, 2019 | 6:48 AMRicardio Madden - Guest Columnist

It is a great feeling to be accepted into university, to finally have a chance to fulfil that childhood dream of wanting to become a teacher, doctor, nurse, chemist, or even a skilled worker.

It is now also the opportune time ‘to adult’ and gain further awareness of self. But how prepared are first-year students, especially those coming directly from high school, for tertiary education?

There are many students who are eager to start university because their long-awaited freedom can now be exercised. The time is now ripe for them to explore. However, not before long they discover how inadequately prepared they are to take on higher education.

The usual week of orientation often proves to be insufficient, as students struggle to understand the logistics of finding the right classes and classrooms as well as adapting to the overall school environment. Of course, we expect this transition to take a couple weeks.

The transition from high school to university or college can be very hectic and challenging for newcomers. According to Biggs et al (2012), transition from high school to university can be of a great concern for many students, with the biggest being a gap from between students’ prior expectations and the realities of university life.

Premature transitions can also result in distress, poor academic performance and increased drop-out rates. In order for students to benefit from a smooth transition and for them to perform at their optimum, this requires meaningful collaboration between both lecturers and students. Briggs and his colleagues emphasise that “the active participation of the academic staff go a long way in assisting students to adapt to the learning environment of the university”.


One of the unfortunate conclusions that many academic staff members draw is that once students apply to university, they are supposed to be automatically ready for the academic challenge. No, this absolutely isn’t the case. They have been accustomed to being spoon-fed, being given the necessary scaffolding to complete assignments, and having teachers repeating and clarifying instructions until comprehension is achieved. They can’t magically write academically and do APA (American Psychological Association) referencing.

As a non-academic staff member at the university level, I have had to spend considerable amounts of time providing guidance and support to undergraduate students. Sadly, I have also seen many students fail courses and have had to abandon their programmes due to scarce mechanisms in place geared at students’ overall success.

Admittedly, not all incoming students experience this level of distress, as they are more mature than some of their peers; some have effective family support, and others depend on their deep intrinsic motivation.

Nonetheless, more should be done to make the transition easier for first-year students. The orientation sessions should be constantly reviewed and upgraded, with more practical topics discussed.

Student unions along with the respective faculties should ensure that there is some sort of mentorship system in place, where older students in the system can provide guidance to those below their levels. In addition, lecturers should actually treat students as human beings by being more compassionate and understanding.

- Ricardio A. Madden is in administrative support at University of Technology, Jamaica; MSc candidate, UTech. Email feedback to