Master of Arts in Higher Education (MAHE) Theses

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


For many American college students, the first major life transition they face is moving from their parents’ home into a university residence hall in the fall following high school graduation. During this period of transition, students must learn how to live in a new place, develop friendships, and figure out how to navigate a new academic environment (Kneipp, Kelly, & Cyphers, 2009). What happens to that transitional process when a student does not begin his or her college career on their home campus? According to the Open Doors Reports from the Institute of International Education (2015), approximately 10,331 college freshmen studied abroad during the 2013/14 academic year. The present study sought to answer the question, “What impact does spending first semester of freshman year abroad in a living-learning community have on student transition to college?” Using a qualitative phenomenological approach, the researcher gathered the experiences of students from three cohorts of a single first-semester freshman study abroad program at a small, liberal arts institution in the Midwest. The major finding of this study showed that students who transition halfway through their first college academic year do struggle with the transition but have a support structure in their fellow program participants that helps them through the initial struggle of being in a new place. The implications for practice found in this study encourage residence life professionals to play an active part in these students’ lives during the first weeks they are on campus in order to set them up for academic success over the next couple of years.