COUNSELING CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND

COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND

 

Differences in the Transition to College by

Race, Sex and Educational. Philosophy

 

Tammy Kirschner and William E. Sedlacek

 

Research Report # 11 - 84

 

Computer time for this study has been provided by the

Computer Science Center, University of Maryland, College Park.

 

COUNSELING CENTER UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND COLLEGE PARK MARYLAND

 

Differences in the Transition to College by Race, Sex and Educational Philosophy

 

Tammy Kirschner and William E. Sedlacek

 

Research Report #11-84

 

SUMMARY

 

The purpose of this study was to examine students' perceptions of the transition from high school to college. Incoming freshmen expectations of what would be the most difficult adjustment to college were assessed and related to characteristics of these students.

The results showed that 78% of the students expected academic adjustments (i.e., studying efficiently, budgeting time, earning satisfactory grades, choosing a major/career) to be the most difficult, while only 10% were most concerned about social adjustments (i.e., meeting other students, getting involved in campus issues), and 8% were most concerned about meeting financial expenses.

Sex differences were found, with more females concerned about choosing a major/career, and more males expecting studying and earning satisfactory grades to be the most difficult adjustments. Differences were also found between white, black and Asian students' expectations of adjusting to college. More whites and Asians than blacks were concerned about studying efficiently and choosing a major/career. Black students were more concerned about meeting expenses than any other group, while Asian students were more concerned about meeting others.

Eight groups of students were identified on the basis of what they expected to be the most difficult adjustment to college. A discriminate analysis revealed two functions which significantly differentiated between the groups. The items which contributed most to the first function assessed certainty of vocational goals and pressure to choose a major. Items contributing most to the second function assessed expectations of participating in intramural sports, belief about the importance of varsity sports on campus, and expectations of earning good grades.

 

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Tautfest, 1961), housing (Brickerhoff & Sullivan, 1982; Sagaria, et al., 1980) and location of and familiarization with campus buildings and the university structure (Brinckerhoff & Sullivan, 1982; Tautfest, 1961). Palladino and Tryon (1.978) found that finances were of more concern to incoming freshmen in 1976 than in 1969, accompanied by an increased concern about one's educational and vocational future.

The research on sex differences in students' needs has revealed mixed results. For example, Brinkerhoff and Sullivan (1982) found females to be more concerned about social relationships than males, while Sagaria,

et al., (1981) found no sex differences in perceived reeds. In terms of the number of problems endorsed by students, several studies have found that females perceive themselves as having more needs and concerns than males (Lowenthal, et al., 1975; Palladino & Tryon, 1978).

In general, with the transition from high school to college, several academic, social, financial and vocational needs become important for incoming freshmen. However, in order to understand students' adaptation to transition, an examination of personal as well as perceived transitional. characteristics is necessary. The purpose of this study was to examine incoming freshmen's perceptions of the most difficult aspects of transition while considering other characteristics of these students, including sex, race, and educational philosophy.

Method

A representative sample of 2758 students (54% males and 46% females) were administered a questionnaire prior to their entry to the University of Maryland, College Park. Data were analyzed using discriminant analysis and Chi Square at the .05 level of significance.

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Results

In response to the question: "What do you expect will be the hardest part of adjusting to college?" 78% of the students chose academic concerns such as studying efficiently (30%), budgeting time (19%), earning satisfactory grades (17%), and choosing a major (11%). Ten percent of the students agreed that adjusting to the social aspects of college, including meeting others (7%) and becoming involved in campus issues (3%) would be most difficult; another 8% of the students believed that meeting expenses would be their most difficult adjustment; while 5% expected becoming a critical and independent thinker would be the hardest part of adjusting to college.

Sex Differences

While more than three-quarters of both males and females believed that academic adjustments would be the most difficult to make upon entering college., there were sex differences regarding which academic issues they were most concerned about. Table 1 shows that a significantly higher proportion of females than males believed that the hardest adjustment they would have to make in college involved choosing a major/career (14% vs. 8%). More males than females believed that studying efficiently (30% vs. 27%) and earning satisfactory grades (17% vs. 15%) would be the most difficult adjustments to make.

Race Differences

Differences were found between black, Asian and white students` perception of college adjustments As Table 1 indicates, a significantly higher proportion of white students (76%) and Asian students (72%) were concerned about academic adjustment. than were black students (64%) . White and Asian students were more concerned about studying efficiently (whites 34%, Asians

 

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blacks 23%), and choosing a major/career (whites 11%, Asians 10%., blacks 8%) than were the black students. There were no differences in the percentages of students in each group who believed that earning good grades and budgeting time would be the most difficult adjustments to make. In relation to social adjustments, however, more blacks (5%) were concerned about getting involved in campus issues than either Asians (2%) or whites (3%). On the other hand, a significantly higher proportion of Asian students believed that meeting other students would be the hardest adjustment to make in college (whites 7%, Asians 12%, blacks 6%). Finally, significantly more blacks (17%) than whites (8%) or Asians (8%) believed that meeting the expenses of college would be the most difficult adjustment.

Educational Philosophy

Four groups of students were identified on the basis of their perceptions of the purposes and goals of higher education (Clark & Trow, 1966): "Vocational" (35%) - these students believed that the purpose of college was to prepare for a career and viewed work experience as more important than intellectual discussions or extra-curricular activities; "Academic" (21%) this group viewed the pursuit of knowledge and intellectual growth and development as the most important aspects of higher education; "Collegiate" (38%) - these students believed that the social aspects of. college life contributed most to learning and emphasized extracurricular/social involvement; "Nonconformist (6%) - this group believed that higher education should emphasize personal development, identity and individual interests, and were generally critical of the college., faculty, and administration. Differences in what they saw as the most difficult adjustment to make in college were found among these groups and are listed in Table 1. Significantly more Collegiate students (80%) believed that the academic aspects of college

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would be tree most difficult adjustments to make than did Vocational (75 %) students, Academic (67%) or Nonconformist (73%) students. Collegiate

 

Insert Table 1 about here

 

students tended to be more concerned about studying efficiently and choosing a major/career than the other groups. However, significantly fewer collegiate students (7%) believed that social adjustments would be the most difficult to make in college compared to Vocational (10%), Academic (14%) or Nonconformist (13%) students.

Most Difficult Adjustment

Eight groups of students were identified on the basis of what they expected to be the most difficult aspect of adjusting to college, using discriminant analysis (see Table 2). The choices were : (1) becoming in

 

Insert Table 2 about here

 

volved in campus issues, (2) thinking critically, (3) earning satisfactory grades. (4) meeting others, (5) meeting expenses, (6) budgeting time, (7) studying efficiently, and (8) choosing a career or major. Twenty-five likert items assessing vocational certainty, social, collegiate and personal attitudes and college related skills and expectations were used in a discriminant analysis. Two functions were Found to significantly discriminate among the groups. The cannonical correlations for the first and second functions were .38 and .19, respectively.

7

Two items loaded heavily on the first function: Certainly of vocational goals (.80) anal pressure to decide on an academic major (._361. This first function alone accounted for 61% of the variance. On the second function,

which accounted for 13% of the variance, three items loaded heavily. These items assessed the students' expectations of participating in intramural sports and activities (.47), evaluation of the importance of varsity sports on campus (-.28), and expectation of receiving high grades while in college (-.53).

Discussion

The present study sought to examine students' expectations of adjusting to the transition from high school to college. As Schlossberg (1987.) defines it: "A transition can be said to occur if an event or nonevent results in a change in assumptions about one's self and the world, and thus requires a corresponding change in one's behavior and relationships," (p.5). Additionally, while several variables affect adaptation to transition, an individual's characteristics play an especially influential role in the adaptation process. Therefore, this study examined the relationship between incoming college students' characteristics and their expectations of the most difficult aspect of the high school to college transition.

The results of this study, consistent with previous findings, showed that incoming freshmen were more concerned about the academic adjustments of college life. than the social ones. Study habits were consistently chosen as the most important concern, followed by time management, grades and major or career choice., respectively. It is interesting to note that, while in the past, grades were of primary concern to freshmen (Lokitz & Sprandei, 1916; Moser, 1955) , the students in this study were more concerned about studying efficiently and budgeting their time than they were about grades.

The results also indicated that students expected meeting financial obligations to be more difficult than adjusting to social changes. This

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finding is consistent with the trend toward increased concern for finances found by Palladino and Tryon (1978) between 1969 and 1976. Among social adjustments, students in the present study believed that: meeting and getting to know other students would be much more difficult than becoming involved in campus issues.

While both males and females expected academic adjustments to be the most difficult ones to make upon entering college, sex differences were found in terms of which academic concerns were most salient. Generally, significantly more males than females expected studying and grades to be the most difficult adjustments. Conversely, significantly more females than males were concerned about choosing a career/major in college. Socially, males and females were equally concerned about meeting and getting to know other students but more females than males expected involvement in campus issues to be a difficult aspect of the transition. This greater concern for social adaptation among females is similar to Brinkerhoff and Sullivan's (1982) findings in which females were more concerned about social relationships than males.

Several race differences were also found in students' expectations of adjusting to college life. Again; all the students were much more concerned about academic adjustments than social adjustments. However, more white and Asian students expected studying and career/major choices to be most. difficult. than did black students. There were no race differences in concern for grades and budgeting Lime, but blacks were significantly more concerned than either

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whites or Asians about meeting financial. expenses in college. Socially, Asian students were much more concerned about meeting and getting to know other students, while more blacks expected getting involved in campus issues to be the most difficult adjustment to make. Previous research on high school students' transition to college has little to say about race differences, and much more work needs to be done in this area before concrete conclusions can be drawn.

The present study also examined the relationship of students' educational philosophy and expectations of adjustment. Those students who believed that social and extra curricular activities make the most significant learning contributions in higher education expected to face the greatest difficulties in adjusting to academic life. Naturally, this same group was much less concerned about social adjustments in college. On the other hand, more of those students who emphasized either intellectual or personal development as the goal of higher education expected social adjustments to be most difficult.

Eight groups of students were identified on the basis of what they expected to be the most difficult adjustment to make in college (Table 2). The discriminant analysis revealed two functions which maximally discriminated between the groups. The items which contributed most to the first function related to certainty of vocational goals and pressure to decide upon a choice of major. Therefore this function could be labeled "Vocational Certainty". The data indicated that Group 1 (those who expected getting involved in campus issues would be most difficult) and Group 2 (those who expected becoming critical thinkers would be most difficult) were most certain of their vocational goals. Group 8 (those who expected the selection

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of a major/career would be most difficult) were least certain of their vocational goals. Also, Group 1 (those who felt deciding whether or how much to get involved in campus issues) and Group 5 (those who felt that meeting

expenses would be most difficult) felt they were under the least amount of pressure to decide on a major; while again, Group 8 reported the greatest pressure to decide on a major course of study.

Three items contributed strongly to the second function, which might be labeled "Student Expectations. Two of these items included the expectation of participating in intramural sports and beliefs about bow strongly varsity sports should be emphasized on campus, while the-third item assessed students' expectations about receiving good grades. Group 2 (those who expected becoming critical and independent thinkers would be most difficult) most expected to participate in intramural sports, while Group 4 (those who expected meeting others would be most difficult) least expected to participate. Group 4 also agreed the most that varsity sports should be deemphasized on campus, while Group 7 (those who expected studying efficiently would be most difficult) agreed least with this idea. Finally, Group 1 (those who expected whether or how much to get involved in campus issues would be most difficult) most expected to earn high grades in college, while Group 3 (those who expected earning satisfactory grades would be most difficult) least expected to earn good grades.

Implications

The results of this study have several implications for teachers, advisors and counselors on a campus: First, it has consistently been found, in this and other studies, that incoming freshmen are primarily concerned about adjusting to the academic pressures and requirements of college life. This suggests that both the dissemination of academic information and academic

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advising should continue to occupy central roles in pre-matriculation programs in secondary schools as well as colleges and universities. Additionally, the results of this study indicate that, at least initially, freshmen are more concerned about study habits than about grades or major choice, emphasizing the utility of offering study skills programs and counseling. Incoming freshmen also can be encouraged to enroll in study skill and survival courses during their first semesters in college.

The race and sex differences revealed in this study are also relevant to academic advisors, counselors and financial aid counselors. The results indicated that different racial- groups of students do indeed have different concerns, but much more research is needed in the area of race differences in students' expectations of the transition to college.

While the present study examined students' expectations of the most difficult adjustments to college. it seems important to follow-up these results in order to see if these expectations are matched by reality. Future research could examine the actual adjustments students found most difficult after one or two semesters in college. It is also possible that various aspects of the transition become more important as the student progresses through school. For instance, Lokitz and Sprandel (1976) found that social concerns become more predominant than academic concerns during the freshman's second semester in college. It is possible that grades and choice of major, as well as social. issues, also become more important after a year or two in college. Such findings would necessitate sequential programming, developmentally designed to fit the changing academic and social concerns of students.

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Finally, a more complete understanding of the issues that most influence adaptation to this particular transition is needed. While the present study attempted to examine some of the characteristics of the individual as well as the transition, more research is needed on the characteristics of the pre and post-transition environments. These include such aspects as support systems and the physical environment. With this information, counselors, faculty and student affairs staff can plan programs that better meet the needs of incoming freshmen, and help facilitate the students' transitions from high school to college.


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References

 

Brinckerhoff, D.B., & Sullivan, P.E. (1982). Concerns of new students: A pretest-posttest evaluation of orientation. Journal of College Student Personnel, 23, 384-390.

 

Chapman, D.W. & Baranowski, B.B. (1977). College expectations of entering freshmen who completed college courses in high school. Journal of College Student Personnel, 18, 188-194.

 

Chickening, A. (1969). Education and identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

Clark, B.R., & Trow, M. The study of college peer groups. Chicago: Aldine.

 

Horowitz, J.L., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1972). Freshman expectations of the University of Maryland, 1971-72. Counseling Center Research Report it 9-72. College Park, Maryland: University of Maryland.

 

Johnson, D.H., & Sedlacek, W.E., (1981). A comparison of students interested in different types of counseling. Journal of the National Association for Women Deans, Administrators and Counselors, 44, (4), 26-29.

 

Lokitz, B.D., & Sprandel, H.Z. (1976). The first year: A look at the freshman. experience. Journal of College Student Personnel, 17, 274-279.

 

Lowenthal, M.F., Thurnher, M., Chiriboga, D., & Associates (1975). The four stages of life: A comparative study of women and men facing the transitions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

Moore, L.V., Higginson, L.C., & White, E.R. (1981). The priority of freshman needs prior to college attendance. College Student Journal, 15, (1), 81-87.

 

Moser, L. (1955). Analyzing some of the transitory fears of entering college freshmen. College and University, 30, 282-283.

 

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References, (continued)

 

Nault, S.P., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1970). Differences between freshmen expectations of the University of Maryland in 1968 and 1969. Counseling Center Research Report # 15-70. College Park, Maryland: University of Maryland.

 

Palladino, J.J., & Tryon, C.S. (1978). Have the problems of entering freshmen changed? Journal of College Student Personnel, 19, 313-316.

 

Sagaria, M.A.D., Higginson, L.C., & White, E.R. (1980). Perceived needs of entering freshmen: The primacy of academic issues. Journal of College Student Personnel, 21, 243-247.

 

Scherer, C., & Wygant, N.S. (1982). Sound beginnings support freshmen transition into university life. Journal of College Student Personnel, 23, 378-383.

 

Schlossberg, N.K. (1981). A model for analyzing human adaptation to transition. The Counseling Psychologist, 9, (2), 2-18.

 

Tautfest, P.B. (1961). An evaluation technique for orientation programs. The Journal of College Student Personnel, 3, 25-28.

 

Table 1: Students' Expectations of the Most Difficult College Adjustments by Sex, Race, and Educational Philosophy

Most Difficult Adjustment

Males

Females

White

Black

Asian

Vocational

Academic

Collegiate

Nonconformist

All Students

 

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Involvement

3

4

3

5

2

3

5

3

2

3

Critical Thinking

5

4

4

7

5

5

5

4

4

5

Satisfactory Grades

17

15

16

14

18

18

12

16

22

16

Meeting Others

7

7

7

6

12

8

9

5

11

7

Meeting Expenses

8

8

8

17

8

8

12

7

8

8

Budgeting Time

19

19

19

20

16

17

22

20

17

19

Studying Efficiently

30

27

30

23

28

30

23

32

26

30

Choosing a Major/Career

8

14

11

8

10

11

10

12

8

11

Other

3

2

2

0

1

0

2

1

2

1

Totals

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

100

 

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Table 2: Students' responses to the questions: "What do you expect will be the hardest part of adjusting to college?"

 

%*

1. Deciding whether (or how much) to get involved in campus issues

3

2. Becoming a more critical and independent thinker

5

3. Earning satisfactory grades

16

4. Getting to meet and know other students both sexes

7

5. Meeting Financial Expenses

8

6. Budgeting time

19

7. Studying efficiently

30

8. Selecting a field of study and/or a major

11

*Note: The percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding or "other" responses.