The mismatch between student educational expectations and realities: prevalence, causes, and consequences by Natalia Maloshonok and Evgeniy Terentev

In Russia, the period of transition from high school to university is associated with a high level of stress and uncertainty because for many undergraduates it is accompanied by a change of their place of residence, as well as a physical and learning environment and social norms. University life challenges first-year students to demonstrate

greater levels of independence, self-regulation, and initiative compared to a high school time that can cause some difficulties in high school to

university transition process. In order to manage a student adaptation to university life, it is important to understand educational expectations of newcomers and the consequences of its mismatch with real activities at a university. This has prompted us to the exploration of prevalence, causes and consequences of the mismatch between freshmen’s

expectations and realities. The longitudinal data from the two surveys of first-year students from National Research University Higher School of Economics were employed (Sample=283 respondents). The first survey was dedicated to exploring students’ expectations concerning their learning activities, time allocation, grades in the first semester,

difficulties in their studies, background characteristics, and motivation. The second survey contained questions about their activities in the first year of study. These questions were similar to the questions about educational expectations and students’ satisfaction with learning.

Our research as well as previous studies on student expectations showed the existence of a so-called ‘freshman myth’. Russian students expected to spend more time on curricular and extra-curricular activities such as class attendance, additional learning related to their field of study, and scientific activities than they actually ended up spending. A large share of students overestimated their future academic performance and underestimated the potential difficulties that can occur during the first year of study at the university. In addition, almost a quarter of them reported a lack of interest in study in the middle of the second semester that was unexpected for them at the beginning of the academic year.

To investigate the causes of mismatch we tested relationships between 30 expectations-reality variables and students’ background and motivational characteristics. We found out that only a few correlation coefficients are statistically significant that leads us to the hypothesis that the mismatch between expectations and reality cannot be

predicted solely by personal background characteristics and motivation at the beginning of studies. However, to test this hypothesis, this study should be replicated using other samples of first-year students.

With regard to the consequences of the mismatch, the following three out of 30 expectations-reality variables significantly influenced the academic performance of first-year students: (1) a mismatch between expected and real grades, (2) a mismatch between expected and real level of interest in study, and (3) a mismatch between expected and real time for extracurricular activities at university.

According to these findings, we can suggest some recommendations for the administration of the newcomers’ adaptation process to the university. We argue that the management of the first-year students’ expectation at the beginning of the study should be done for easier adaptation during the high school-to-university transition period. First, it is important to form high expectations and self-confidence among freshmen regarding their future academic performance. Second, it is necessary to track the level of students’ interest in studies and determine the possible reasons for its decrease. Third, universities should provide resources on the optimal balance between curricular and extracurricular activities for students.

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