2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Great Expectations? A Comparative Analysis of Bachelor and Graduate Level Engineering Students' Expectations of University and Experiences of Transition

Presented at Graduate Education


Grounded in a practical approach to engineering education proposed by Clark & Andrews (2014) and utilising Action Research Methodologies (Norton, 2008) this paper discusses the findings of a comparative analysis into the expectations and experiences of two distinctive cohorts of students as they transition into a UK Engineering School. It provides a detailed overview of the study findings and discusses the application of the study findings in terms of changes to academic practice and student support. A number of recommendations are made.


Starting with the research question “How can student transition into university be improved at both undergraduate and graduate level?’ the study builds on previous work (see for example Hernandez-Martinez, 2016 & Pampaka et al, 2012) to identify and analyse the issues around transition into university for engineering students. To achieve this two different cohorts of students were sampled. The first sample comprised 240 students enrolled on an ‘entry level’ general engineering undergraduate programme. The second comprised 150 graduate level students enrolled on an engineering management programme.
Using quantitative techniques a comparative analysis of both cohorts’ expectations of university was undertaken. Grounded in many of the issues highlighted by Tinto’s work on retention and attrition (1987, 2010) the study examined student expectations in terms of: learning and teaching: student support: academic quality: working with other students: and previous experiences of engineering and STEM education. It also examined individual perceptions and experiences of transition.


Both sample groups indicated that making the transition into university was somewhat traumatic with concerns about ‘making friends’ and ‘fitting in’ far exceeding any academic misgivings in both cohorts. Somewhat surprisingly, both sample groups indicated that they had expected to encounter ‘traditional-didactic learning and teaching approaches’ at university (with more contemporary pedagogic practices seemingly beyond their a priori experiences).


In providing a detailed comparative analysis of student expectations as they make the transition into university, this paper seeks to articulate the key causes of the ‘trauma of transition’ for engineering students at very two different key transition points in their academic careers. It shows how by using the study findings to inform and guide practice, it is possible to put in place a more ‘tactical and focused’ approach to transition in which the emphasis is on the individual ‘engineering student experience’ as opposed to a more generic, university-wide ‘Freshers’ approach to transition. A number of recommendations for colleagues responsible for students as they progress into engineering programmes are made resulting in a notable contribution to current debates in the area of student transition. Additionally the paper findings add to theory and practice in engineering education.

  1. Dr. Jane Andrews Aston University [biography]
  2. Prof. Robin Clark Aston University
Download paper (444 KB)

Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper? Visit the ASEE document repository at peer.asee.org for more tools and easy citations.