Life Transitions: From High School to University

“Any transition is easier if you believe in yourself and your talent”
– Priyanka Chopra

Progress in life is non-linear, hence to move forward most individuals must adapt and evolve by leaving the comfort of familiarity and transitioning to the next part of their life. Although we all go through transitory moments, not all transitions or individuals are alike.

Currently, the population of individuals attending higher education is expanding, and with recent research taking on the task of understanding what affects the transition to university, we can now establish which factors are key to a smooth transition to university. This is important (,) as the transition to university has been determined to be linked to students’ academic success, social health, and personal growth.

So how is it done? How does one transition efficiently to university? From one goal to another of course. We don’t reflexively leave comfort towards the new and unknown. This type of behaviour is usually done with intent, under the direction of a goal. Working towards a distant long-term goal such as graduating from university is complex. As such, here is a 3-step guide to make this transition more transparent.

Step 1. Plan for Self-Regulatory Success

Research has established that our ability to monitor and control our own behavior, emotions, or thoughts (self-regulation) can be predetermined. Meaning that one can plan how they will react in accordance an event before being exposed to the situation. To beat the temptation of not self-regulating, identifying goal intentions (e.i. desire to achieve a certain outcome) and separating them from implementation intentions (i.e. steps necessary to achieve the goal) is key (Gollwitzer, 1999). The plan for self-regulatory success uses a simple formula that goes like this: “when situation x occurs, I will perform action y” (e.g. when I have an exam in 7days, I will start studying”). Science backed findings suggest that a lack of implementation intentions increases odds of failure due to poor self-regulation and that the odds of success become slimmer as the goal increases in difficulty or complexity. Hence, remember to plan your implementation intentions.

Step 2. Do your Research

We all try to achieve multiple goals concurrently. As such developing the skills and expanding knowledge on the subject linked to the goal will allow one to have more tools at their disposal when faced with adversity. Researching topics of interest helps identify aspects of a topic we need to learn or expand knowledge on. In turn, increased knowledge leads to increased enactive mastery experiences (i.e. past successes one can look back and reflect on), leading to increased self-efficacy (Artino, 2012).  Self-efficacy relates to one’s belief in their competence to produce desirable outcomes through one’s own efforts, a concept that has been determined to be key in achieving one’s objectives (Locke & Latham, 2002). Thus, increasing self-efficacy can only benefit individuals seeking to achieve their goals, as it has been shown to increase key factors such as motivation (Van der Bijl & Shortridge-Baggett, 2002). For example, as stated above, using the goal intention formula “when I have an exam in 7days, I will start studying” would increase the likelyhood of success on your health psychology midterm as it increases knowledge retention. This in turn will lead you to view past success as an indicator of capabilities for future success, thus enhancing self-efficacy.

Step 3. Make Actions Automatic

The last item on the list regards making actions automatic. Automatic actions can benefit individuals seeking to achieve goals as they are less hindered by distractions and procrastination. To implement automatic actions, it is suggested to assign a specific time and place for a goal activity, this creates an environment that will be filled with cues that induce automatic goal-directed behaviours. Allowing goal directed behaviours into one’s routine allows automatism to occur; facilitating the probability of goal obtaining through increasing goal directed behaviours (Baumgardner & Crothers, 2014). Here is an example: you now have elevated levels of self-efficacy as you succeed on your previous exams, you succeeded because you have applied a goal intention formula, this is great but it can still be optimized. Including studying in your routine will make the goal intention of studying run smoother, as research has demonstrated that once goal-directed behaviours becomes automatic, less conscious control is necessary allowing less cognitive depletion. Conscious self-control is expensive, it requires energy to be spent and can lead to less efficient goal directed behaviour hence its automation allows greater efficiency and efficacy in terms of working towards your objectives (Baumgardner & Crothers, 2014).

Goals are important, especially during times of transition. By planning, believing in yourself and utilizing the automatic nature of the brain, move forward knowing your goals are closer than you think!


  • Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. The American Psychologist, 54(7), 493-503.
  • Artino, A. R. (2012). Academic self-efficacy: from educational theory to instructional practice.
  • Van der Bijl, J. J., & Shortridge-Baggett, L. M. (2002). The theory and measurement of the self-efficacy construct. In E. A. Lentz & L. M. Shortridge-Baggett (Eds.), Self-efficacy in nursing: Research and measurement perspectives (pp. 9-28). New York: Springer
  • Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey.   American Psychologist, 57 (9), 705-717.
  • Baumgardner, S. R., & Crothers, M. K. (2014). Positive psychology. Harlow, Essex: Pearson.

About Author

Tarek is a pre-med honors Health Psychology student at Carleton University, with a minor in Neuroscience and Mental Health. Currently, an undergraduate Health Psychology researcher, Tarek values the sharing of knowledge related to the biological, psychological, and social model of health.

Life Transitions: From High School to University (50)

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