Student Engagement in the First Year: The Case of Middle East Technical University

Emil, Serap
Akşab, Şahabettin
The transition from high school to university can be considered as a challenging experience due to life-course changes for the first year university students. According to the results of research studies (Askham, 2008; Clinciu, 2013; Tinto, 1996), the first year in the university seems to be the most critical period for university engagement. This transition period can create significant difficulties and stress for first year students to meet the demands of the new academic and social environment they get involved in (Dyson & Renk, 2006). In other words, freshmen students are faced with a foreign environment that these new students must struggle against to get their personal and academic purposes. Student engagement in the university is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. That means student engagement includes not only academic aspects but also non-academic aspects of university students’ experiences (Krause & Coates, 2008). When examined student engagement phenomenon in the literature, it can be seen that three dimensions of student engagement are described in many higher education studies. These three factors named as academic engagement, social engagement and psychological engagement can be used to understand the codes in student adaptation to university. Therefore, it has been decided to investigate the possible effects of these three types of student engagement to university in this study. The study aims to examine freshmen students’ engagement into university life with respect to academic, social and psychological engagement. In line with the purpose of the study, the research question guided in the study is: How do first year students experience the challenges and opportunities in the process of transition to university life? The study was designed as a case study. Middle East Technical University (METU) was chosen as a case because the case involves complex individual and environmental interactions. With the qualitative research method used, it is aimed to bring another point of view to the subject. The participants were determined with the criterion sampling method which is one of the purposeful sampling methods. The literature shows that the students have faced some problems to adapt to university in first years (Beck, Taylor, & Robbins, 2003; Blimling & Miltenberg, 1981; Pike & Kuh, 2005). Therefore, the first year students of the university were identified as working group. The semi-structured interview was used to collect the data. The interview form containing 12 questions was developed by the researchers through analysing the related literature. The preliminary results of first year students’ experiences included five main themes so far: their overall experience, academic life, psychological development, social development, and campus life. Regarding overall experience, the English preparation school is seen as a transition phase from high school to university. For academic life, although the academic quality of the university as high and stimulating intellectual environment, there was a mismatch in their expectations and experiences in their first year. In addition, as part of being university student, they talked about their awareness on their own personal development after starting the university in terms of psychological development. The social, cultural and sports opportunities of the campus are all appreciated for they allow them to socialize with other people regarding social development. In terms of campus life, although the students underlined development of commitment to campus, overall crowdedness on campus due to high number of students is also an problematic issue for them. In sum, in the adaptation process, university students encounter opportunities, challenges and problems in the first year of their education within the scope of their interests, expectations and requirements.
Citation Formats
S. Emil and Ş. Akşab, “Student Engagement in the First Year: The Case of Middle East Technical University,” presented at the 4. Uluslararası Yükseköğretim Çalışmaları Konferansı, (October 10-12, 2019 / 10-12 Ekim 2019 ), Çanakkale / TÜRKİYE, 2019, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: