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Mental Wellbeing

Education for Mental Health Toolkit - Prepare students for progression

Research indicates that successful progression between levels of academic study is important for future success and wellbeing (1-2).

Prepare Students for Progression

Research indicates that successful progression between levels of academic study is important for future success and wellbeing (1-2). Transitions have the potential to be disruptive to wellbeing and learning, and the student journey through university is one of multiple, ongoing transitions that continue from induction through to graduation and beyond (3). Successful progression requires a sense of continuity and increasing academic challenge that is within students’ reach.  

If students are inadequately prepared for the next stage of learning, they can experience a gap between the knowledge and skills they have and the knowledge and skills they require (4). This can lead to anxiety, disillusion, self-doubt and lowered motivation. Research into the experiences of second year students indicates that many experience a reduction in motivation, engagement and enjoyment of their course in the second year (5-6). Some students appear to experience increased academic anxiety and less self-efficacy. 

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As students progress through levels of study, they are generally expected to undertake increasing amounts of independent study and to require less direction. However, students can only undertake more independent study if they have developed the underlying skills and knowledge required for this task. There is also a need for students to have clarity about what will be required of them for academic success. If students know and understand in advance what will be required in terms of workload, degree of academic challenge and how to self-manage in order to achieve, they will be more likely to take an engaged approach which allows them a sense of control and self-efficacy (2, 7).  

Alternatively, if there is a lack of clarity, students may develop unhelpful beliefs or imbibe myths about what is required of them at each level. This can result in students becoming overwhelmed and anxious about challenges that do not, in fact, exist and narratives that are untrue. This can also lead students to adopt behaviours that are unhelpful for both their learning and wellbeing e.g., working through the night and sacrificing sleep regularly, which in turn undermines quality of learning and wellbeing (8-9).  

In addition to these pressures, final year students face the prospect of progression out of university. There are two inter-acting elements to this. First is the exit from university itself and the loss of the structure and community it provided. The second is the uncertainty of seeking a new life and career. These pressures can compete for cognitive capacity, reducing focus, concentration and creativity, just as many students are completing their most important pieces of work (2-3). 

To address these challenges, the curriculum must be designed to provide scaffolding across all levels of study and effective and transparent communication, ensuring that each level properly prepares students for the next level. Ensuring internal coherence can provide students with a sense of accumulating continuity and certainty. This can be augmented by progression and re-induction events and by work to prepare students for the end of the final year, the exit from university and the entrance into the world beyond graduation (out-duction) (2, 10). These events can be developed and delivered collaboratively with colleagues from Student Services, Study Skills teams and Careers teams. Benefit may also be gained via peer mentoring schemes, in which students in one level provide preparation for students in the level below – tackling myths and establishing what healthy and helpful practice looks like. 

Key lessons 

  • Progression between levels of academic study is important for future success and wellbeing. 
  • The curriculum must explicitly prepare students for the transition to the next level of study and for the transition out of university. 
  • If students are not adequately prepared, they can encounter gaps between the knowledge and skills they have and that they require. This can impact negatively on wellbeing creating doubt, anxiety and loss of motivation. 
  • To prepare students for progression, the curriculum must be scaffolded across all levels, providing internal coherence and ensuring each level prepares students for the next level. 

Top Tips 

  • Design the curriculum to ensure it is scaffolded across all levels and that learning outcomes build sequentially over the programme. 
  • Work collaboratively with professional colleagues to create progression and re-induction events, to provide additional support and preparation.  
  • Use peer mentoring to tackle myths and provide good behavioural models to students in the year below. 
  • Develop out-duction practice, within the curriculum, to support students to prepare for their exit from university. 
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  1. Tett L, Cree VE, Christie H. From further to higher education: transition as an on-going process. Higher Education. 2017 Mar 1;73(3):389-406. Available from: doi: 10.1007/s10734-016-0101-1 
  2. Morgan M. The student experience practitioner model. In: Supporting Student Diversity in Higher Education 2013 Jul 3 (pp. 69-88). Routledge.
  3. Hughes G, Spanner L. The university mental health charter. Leeds: Student Minds. 2019.
  4. Yorke M. Why study the second year? In: Stepping up to the Second Year at University 2014 Nov 20 (pp. 21-33). London: Routledge.
  5. Whittle SR. The second-year slump–now you see it, now you don’t: Using DREEM-S to monitor changes in student perception of their educational environment. Journal of Further and Higher Education. 2018 Jan 2;42(1):92-101. Available from: doi: 10.1080/0309877X.2016.1206854 
  6. Webb OJ, Cotton DR. Deciphering the sophomore slump: changes to student perceptions during the undergraduate journey. Higher Education. 2019;77:173.
  7. Scott J, Cashmore A. Fragmented transitions: moving to the 2nd year. In: Proceedings STEM Annual Conference 2012. Available from:
  8. Curcio G, Ferrara M, De Gennaro L. Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance. Sleep medicine reviews. 2006 Oct 1;10(5):323-37.
  9. Scullin MK. The eight hour sleep challenge during final exams week. Teaching of Psychology. 2019 Jan;46(1):55-63.
  10. Morgan M. Outduction: preparing to leave, graduation and beyond. In: Improving the Student Experience