Orientation and transition

Administration & transition             Your role in transition          The Orientation Program
    Your UoS and transition       Resources on transition 
    The first week    

Transition in first year

Transition is the process of moving from one set of circumstances to another. In our context it refers to the range of issues, challenges and emotions that students face during various new stages of their university career, and specifically in making the move to the University of Sydney from secondary school, another tertiary institution, the workplace, or some other activity such as being a carer or taking a gap year.

Good orientation to the new circumstances and environment makes an extremely valuable contribution to a smooth transition process. However, it is important that we don't assume that students’ needs are fully addressed simply by attending an orientation program or O-Week events.

Transition to tertiary learning is something that takes place throughout the first year at university. As first year coordinators, it is our job to support and facilitate that transition at all stages.

The Orientation program


The University runs an excellent Orientation Program in the week before classes begin in Semester 1, with a series of activities and events to help students begin their transition to university learning. These include lectures and workshops on developing vital life and learning skills, as well comprehensive information about University support services.

The Orientation Program website remains live all year round, with ongoing, helpful information and support for first year students.

The University of Sydney Union (USU) organises a three-day O-Week Program before Semester 1 begins, and often arranges a ‘Re-O Day’ early in Semester 2. If students miss out on joining USU clubs and societies at those times, they can check them out on the USU Clubs and Socs link. These are a fantastic way for new students to meet others and get involved in uni life.

Faculties and schools also have welcomes and activities to introduce the students to staff and fellow students, and to specific aspects of the local culture, environment and practices.

Administration and transition

Incoming students may come to their unit coordinator requesting pre-requisite waivers or credits for previous learning at other universities. This is particularly common in the case of students who commence their enrolment in Semester 2.

Check with your head of discipline/department to see if it is your responsibility to give permission, or whether another member of staff deals with all such requests.

If you are responsible, make sure you check your faculty web site to find out the kind of documentation that the student is required to provide.

The difference between Advanced Standing, Specific and Non-specific Credit, Exemptions and Waivers is explained in the University policy on Admission: Advanced Standing, Credit and Exemption Policy.

Your role in transition

While you may not have any responsibilities in relation to Orientation week, there are things that you can do to help your students through their first weeks and months at university. This site is designed to support you in that role.

Understanding the transition experience that students undergo when they enter our teaching and learning environment will help you to develop strategies that make the transition a more positive and constructive experience.

There are particular issues inherent to first year students, in addition to any content-related teaching and learning issues. As unit coordinator you are in the best position to:

  • help younger students to transition to being adult learners, which includes developing good self-management and independent learning skills. See our section on Independent learning skills.
  • bring a diverse cohort of students from different backgrounds to an appropriate level of skills in writing, information literacy, etc.
  • help students acculturate to disciplinary practices related to citation and academic honesty. See Academic honesty.
  • get students accustomed to the lecture format and other learning modes. Lectures, in particular, may be daunting for new students, especially if the class is large.

The Teaching Insight 2: Orienting students to university study page on the Institute of Teaching and Learning (ITL) Teaching Insights site has suggestions on how you can help students to transition to university learning, in your role as coordinator. Many of these suggestions require organisation in advance, before teaching begins.

Preparing your unit of study (UoS) to help students transition well

There are a number of ways in which your UoS design can assist your first year students in their transition to tertiary study.

  • Set clear goals (such as learning objectives), and standards (such as the criteria on which students will be assessed) for your unit and articulate these explicitly in the UoS outline
  • Scaffold your students’ learning, especially in relation to their preparation for assessment tasks. See UoS Alignment.
  • Use a variety of approaches and options to facilitate learning (eg blended learning, recording lectures, providing lecture outlines, group work, enquiry-based learning, etc).

See Unit of study design for more information on these.

The first week

Your first lecture is important, as it will provide crucial information about your UoS, your eLearning site, etc. while also setting the tone that engages students in the learning content.

The Business School website has some tips on your first lecture, most of which are generally applicable across the faculties.

Remember, however, that students can enrol in your unit at any time up until the end of the second week of semester. Make sure that you also provide a summary of your first lecture(s) on your eLearning site, or arrange for lecture recording and provide a link on your site.

Resources and studies on student transition

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (Scotland) has number of publications on their Enhancement Themes website. "Transition to and during first year" investigates ways to engage and empower students in their transition to university learning. You can find a pdf of the article under the fifth heading ‘First Year Experience’ about half way down the site page.