Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)
Background / context: University is an important milestone for young adults. The first year of university presents many challenges that can be daunting and overwhelming; however these challenges present opportunities to develop important skills for surviving university adapting to an increasingly complex adult world. Those who meet the challenges of university life are well situated to become productive and responsive members of the community (Gootman & Eccles, 2002). Identifying how to support young people in engaging with their challenges, then, is beneficial not just for the individual, but also for the community.
Research: Two cohorts of 109 (83 women) and 98 (79 women) first-year psychology students at a high ranking university completed computer-assisted self-interviews about their everyday lives. These computer-assisted interview were specifically developed to offer an engaging, age- and culture- appropriate research space for young people to voice their opinions (Lawrence, Dodds, & Brooker, 2010). In the program, students built concept maps of their bigger and smaller everyday challenges, described their biggest challenge overall, how it affected their life, and described how (if) they dealt with it. The locations of each challenge in the concept maps generated quantitative data that were analysed with correspondence analysis. Descriptions of experiences with biggest challenges were analysed by a systematic coding technique that identified key themes and patterns across the cohorts.
Outcomes: The students shared a common pattern of 'bigger’ and ‘smaller’ challenges, with some gender differences related to family challenges and expectations. The two biggest challenges for both cohorts were time management and school workload. Challenges related to time management affected students’ work, family, social, and study commitments. Challenges related to school workload created feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Most dealt with their challenges by drawing on networks outside of the university (family, friends), and by developing their own study plans. Several felt too overwhelmed to deal with their challenges and wanted more support from the university.
Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)
This study identifies some of the key challenges faced by young people in their first year of university, for two consecutive cohorts. Consistent with concerns about the effect of the current economic climate on young people’s developmental outcomes (Patel et al., 2007), the young people’s challenges affected not only their university life but also their personal, family, and career lives. What is needed are sustainable approaches to supporting young people in meeting these challenges to become productive, responsive adults. Some solutions appear in the young people’s responses (e.g., promoting social networks, study time on campus), but others must come from changes to the university culture and community.