Close menu


Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

Apprehension, anxiety and awkwardness: transitioning to Higher Education and the implications for student retention

Williams, Helen and Roberts, Nicola (2021) Apprehension, anxiety and awkwardness: transitioning to Higher Education and the implications for student retention. In: First International Practice Focused Research in Education Conference (IPFREC), 5-8 July 2021, University of Sunderland. (Unpublished)

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


New first-year students are vulnerable to dropping out of university. The transition to higher education (HE) is an important predictor of continued engagement (Ang et al., 2019), and social and academic integration is crucial in supporting students to persist with their studies (Tinto, 1993). The Criminology Longitudinal Retention Project tracked 3 consecutive first-year cohorts from 2014 to 2020, using a multi-method approach. The focus of this paper is the critical discourse analysis of 6 focus groups/interview with 17 students during their first year of study to understand how students settle at university. The data also includes exit interviews with 13 students, and qualitative data from periodic questionnaires completed by the wider cohort of students (n=165) during their first year. Many of the students appeared to have poor social bonds with other students and little connection to the University or the city. Often the transition to a new identity of ‘university student’ was hampered by feelings of awkwardness or anxiety, which prevented students from fully integrating into student life. The discourse of awkwardness was represented by physical/geographical, social and academic discomfort and was used by students to explain a number of red flags for attrition. However, the subject of Criminology was a ‘protective’ factor because interest in the topic and wanting a degree for betterment, including for future career plans, buffered students against dropping out. This suggests that amendments to the Criminology curriculum may support students to forge and embed their student identity more quickly and successfully. This could ameliorate the awkwardness of identity transition and support student retention. These implications are important given the current pandemic and the move to online teaching as students are limited in their ability to socialise, access university amenities, and get to know the city/campus.

Full text not available from this repository.

More Information

Depositing User: Helen Williams


Item ID: 13681

Users with ORCIDS

ORCID for Helen Williams: ORCID iD
ORCID for Nicola Roberts: ORCID iD

Catalogue record

Date Deposited: 14 Jul 2021 12:57
Last Modified: 14 Jul 2021 12:57


Author: Helen Williams ORCID iD
Author: Nicola Roberts ORCID iD

University Divisions

Faculty of Education and Society


Education > Higher Education

Actions (login required)

View Item (Repository Staff Only) View Item (Repository Staff Only)