Date of Graduation
Doctor of Philosophy in Higher Education (PhD)
Rehabilitation, Human Resources and Communication Disorders
Michael Stephen Hevel
Second Committee Member
College Expectations, College Experiences, First-Year Student, Higher Education, Person-Environmental Fit, Student Satisfaction
Understanding what expectations first-year students have for their first semester of college can help university faculty, staff, and administrators have a better understanding of how to best provide support and resources that meet the needs of their students and lay the necessary foundations for their academic and social success early on. Unfortunately, many students report a variety of social, academic, personal, and environmental experiences that do not fully match their expectations. The purpose of this study was to examine what expectations and experiences first-year college students had about their first semester and how they interpreted both alignments and misalignments between their expectations and experiences.
The research questions of this study were explored in two phases using an explanatory sequential mixed method design. In phase one, quantitative matching pre- and post-surveys were given to traditional first-year students to understand what (mis)aligned expectations first-year students had at the beginning of their first semester of college (pre-survey), and what they reported experiencing (post-survey). For the first phase of the experiment, 96 participants completed all or most of the initial expectation survey and 52 participants completed the entire follow-up experience survey. A paired t-test analysis was conducted on the matching pre- and post-survey questions to explore which areas of student experiences had the most significant (mis)alignments. Using descriptive statistics, individuals were scored and assigned a (mis)alignment score, falling on a spectrum of having overestimated expectations (entered college with higher expectations, but reported lower experience scores), aligned expectations and experiences, or underestimated expectations (entered college with lower expectations, but reported higher experience scores). Six individuals representing the various (mis)alignment options were invited to an interview to explore how students with varying alignment and misalignment scores perceived their experiences and expectations. Thematic analysis was used to create six themes from the student interviews that provided a more in-depth understanding of the types of expectations students had for their college experience and how they felt about any (mis)alignments they might have experienced.
The results of this study echo the general literature and research base on student expectations: 1) they do matter, 2) they come from a variety of sources, 3) they impact each individual student’s experience and perception of college in unique ways, and 4) students tend to hold higher expectations than they should. The results of this study indicated that academic and social expectation and experience (mis)alignments are the most significant for students. However, the results also indicated that (mis)alignments in expectations and experiences are not always a bad thing and can lead to the development of adaptability and resiliency skills that help students create more realistic expectations and decision-making processes in the future.
Recommendations for future studies on expectations and experiences (mis)alignments could explore how to better utilize technology, social media, and student programming to help shape the student expectation formation process both before students move in and early in their college career to help them develop healthier and more realistic expectations overall.
Meyers, M. G. (2022). Exploring (Mis)alignments between First-Year Students’ Expectations and Experiences. Graduate Theses and Dissertations Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/etd/4438