Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Kathy Hibbert


This phenomenological study examined the first-year university transition experience of 39 gifted students and the impact of this transition on their beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of learning through a multiple methods design via semi-structured individual interviews, focus groups, and survey instruments, specifically the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory and the College Survival and Success Scale. In addition, an autoethnographic component was incorporated in order to (a) frame the researcher’s bias, and (b) provide a means of eliciting analytic insights that connect personal experience to broader theoretical issues. The theoretical framework for this study incorporated three complementary theories, symbolic interactionism, role theory, and social cognitive theory, in order to provide an intricate lens for examining gifted university students’ lived experience in terms of expectations (both self and other’s), context, and identity.

Using the interpretive phenomenological analysis method (J. A. Smith & Osborn, 2008), the study found that gifted students experienced transition issues similar to the regular student population, with one exception–struggling gifted students indicated that there was a gap in their learning skillset. These students felt that in addition to the regularly anticipated transition issues, they were also faced with the task of “learning how to learn.” Upon further investigation, it was revealed that participants believed that the societal, familial, and personal expectations and assumptions associated with the gifted label was predominantly responsible for hindering the development of a variety of learning and study skills, and that participants’ first experience of failure challenged their perceptions about themselves as gifted and as learners.

This study revealed that many gifted students are not as prepared for university learning as one would expect. Finding ways of addressing these issues at all levels of education is necessary to help ensure gifted students can excel in the new learning environment of university. This information becomes particularly important for secondary and post-secondary administrators and academic counselors when developing transition or orientation programs and providing educational counseling. Understanding the issues related to this critical educational transition would potentially help students who are gifted and talented reduce stress, manage failure, and build learning and coping strategies.