Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Linda T Miller



The transition from high school to university has been associated with decreases in health and wellbeing for some students. The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore the transitional needs and experiences of students leaving high school and entering Western University, to explore how students conceptualize thriving, and to develop a substantive theory of transition and thriving for Western University students.

A total of 42 students and 21 staff members from Western University participated in this study. Data were collected through focus groups and individual interviews. Utilizing grounded theory data analysis methods two conceptual models were developed. The first model outlines students’ transition experiences, as well as their conceptualization of thriving at university. The data suggest that students tend to be unprepared for the transition to university. The majority of students reported that their transition to university consisted of mostly negative experiences.

The second model uses the data and the theoretical frameworks that guided the study to explain the transitional experiences described by students and staff. The model shows that when students transition to university, they actually experience multiple transitions within a short period of time. The data included in the model also show that there are several person-environment tensions and interactions that affect students’ transition experiences and thriving outcomes.

This study elucidates the factors that affect students as they transition from high school to Western University. The substantive theory generated from the data explains that students enter university with inadequate skills, and with inaccurate knowledge and expectations about university life. As a result of their inadequate preparation students face numerous challenges, the most difficult challenges tend to be time management, making friends, and managing the increased workload. Thriving was conceptualized as achieving academic success, employing effective coping skills, having a positive perspective, engaging in healthy behaviours, gaining connectedness, and occupational participation. This theory is preliminary and further research is needed to validate the theory for generalization to other Canadian universities. The results, however, provide valuable information to guide assessment and further development of potential support services and programs to assist students transitioning to university.


Transition, thriving, high school, university, students, experiences, grounded theory