Adjusting to University Life for First Years

By Letoo James, Jan 29, 2021

Joining college is a time of great excitement and expectation for students. This period is both a transitional and a transformational one. It marks an important academic and developmental milestone in the life of young adults. One leaves behind adolescence in high school and takes the first step towards adult life in college. But in all new beginnings, unfamiliar territories and great changes, challenges and opportunities abound that can be a source of anxiety and stress. Navigation and success need a new set of skills and tools. This means there must be some unlearning, learning and relearning, therefore, a smooth transition will be a gradual process and not an instantaneous event.

There are apparent differences between high school and college, just as there are differences between adolescence and adulthood. Understanding and accepting these differences can have a significant effect in preparation for campus life. For these differences explain the difficulties that most students face in their first year of college. In high school, students are treated as minors, constantly under the attention of parents, teachers and other adults. Time is strictly structured and life mostly follows a fixed routine. College on the other hand sees students as adults who are expected to self-regulate, self-direct, self-motivate and succeed as independent individuals.

Laikipia University is cognizant of the fact that students come with varying levels of life coping skills as determined by various factors. Some will be resilient while others vulnerable. It is therefore unreasonable to assume that all students will adequately cope with the challenges thrown at them along the way. Some will cope well, thrive and succeed in all spheres. Some will seek various forms of support to succeed while others will struggle to function and drop out entirely.

First years may find it challenging managing relationships, diversity, finances, time and academic demands. Availability of alcohol and other harmful substances may be tempting to some and soon they will find themselves lost and distracted from their responsibilities. This is compounded by the fact that more young people today spent more time interacting with technology, electronic gadgets and the internet rather than interacting with others which leads to a deficit in the development of healthy social skills. These experiences may create a feeling of homesickness, loneliness, depression, disconnection and perception of helplessness and worthlessness. To alleviate these negative feelings one is advised to develop healthy relationships with other students, lecturers and staff and be actively engaged in both academic and social spheres. Evidence suggests that a student who is fully engaged is likely to report satisfaction with college life, record higher grades and graduate. It is more important than ever to cultivate a sense of belonging and connection among today’s youth. The benefits of social networks provide social capital including psychological wellbeing, increasing access to information, resources, opportunities that one cannot access while operating solo. Relationships lead to benefits and access to benefits increases as individuals form additional relationships.

Laikipia University has programs in academic and student affairs divisions to engage students and help adjust to the new environment. Faculty and staff in both academic and student affairs divisions are especially committed to supporting students to succeed in their first year in campus. Academic engagement influences grades while social engagement influences a sense of belonging, satisfaction and emotional support.

The student affairs division deals with student welfare matters including and not limited to hostel, meals, accommodation, bursary, counselling, chaplaincy and sports. There are clubs and associations for various courses, religious groups, social causes, recreation and sporting activities that one can join and participate. Through these platforms, students find a sense of being accepted, valued, encouraged and perception of importance in the university community. It is also an avenue to use ones talents and practice vital life skills including critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, leadership and empathy. Troubled and needy students will always find a friendly environment and understanding staff to attend to their needs. However, to enjoy the services students are encouraged to ask for help at the earliest opportunity before things get out of hand.

How do I know I am on the right path? One may ask. Upcraft, Barefoot and Caedner (2005) identified eight areas that one may examine to judge his or her progress. They include;

  1. Developing academic and intellectual competence
  2. Establishing and maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  3. Exploring identity development
  4. Choosing a career and lifestyle
  5. Maintaining personal health and wellness
  6. Developing civic responsibility,
  7. Considering spiritual dimensions of life
  8. Ability to deal with diversity.

The list is not in any order or need not be achieved all at once. It only serves as a guide to ensure that one develops as an all-rounded and balanced individual who continuously strives to improve and better themselves.

Entry into college has a mixed bag of experiences. The first year can test students but it doesn’t have to break them. Whatever level of resilient-vulnerable continuum one is at, support is always available so that one can make the best of campus life and get prepared to make the world a better place. Ultimately it has been shown that the more students become involved in social and academic domains and develop a sense of belonging the more likely they will graduate successfully. Laikipia University will provide the conducive environment and tools necessary for students to answer the call of their career goals.


  1. Upcraft, M. L., Gardner, J. N., & Barefoot, B. O. (Eds.). (2005). Challenging and supporting the first-year student: A handbook for improving the first year of college. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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