Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Education


The purpose of this qualitative study is to identify and explore academic, social, and career-related expectations that first-year college students believe lead to their collegiate success as defined by their perception of persisting in higher education. Further investigation determines how these expectations align with faculty expectations of student success. Eight first-year college students and eight college instructors were interviewed about their expectations at a small, private college. Criteria for first-year students include residing on campus and graduating from high school within the last year. Eligible faculty teach at least one class at the first-year level.

The data from student interviews indicate students are optimistic and expect to be academically successful. Students expect college to be more academically difficult than it turns out to be. Furthermore, students expect academic success by managing their time, placing academic responsibilities as the highest priority in their lives, and being responsible for their own learning. These student expectations align with those of faculty who expect students not only to show up for class but also to be active participants in class discussions and to take their academic success seriously.

Data regarding social expectations indicate students expect to find both a good quantity and quality of friends. Both students and faculty believe the key to fitting into the college campus is to be authentic. Faculty believe students find friends in more formalized activities, such as joining student organizations while students develop friendships informally, oftentimes in their residence halls.

The last category of expectations relates to student career plans. Both students and faculty expect college to prepare students for careers by learning general skills for the work world. In the first year of college, both faculty and students view coursework as building blocks for future classes. Limited examples were given as to how first-year coursework actually prepares students for a career. Yet, both students and faculty trust the educational process of college-level study in preparing students for their careers.

While student and faculty expectations of college might align in some ways in terms of academics, social life, and career paths, few themes are firmly identified when assessing why students leave college after the first semester or the first year. Students believe they would leave for unfulfilled social and career reasons. An inability to find friends or changing their major to one not offered at their current institution would lead students to consider changing schools. Faculty mention these similar reasons but offer many more, such as financial reasons or a lack of family support. Some faculty simply do not know why students would leave nor think of it very often.

This study shows how setting and communicating reasonable expectations about the college experience is important for first-year students. More collaboration between high schools and colleges would allow students to have a clear understanding of how to achieve success in college.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.