Supporting Successful Student Transitions from School to University

In late March this year, thousands of students will receive their SPM results, which will mark a turning point for many of them. Whilst a number may still remain in the school system to continue with their Form Six education, a very large proportion will take a big leap into the next phase of their education journey, i.e. entering a college or university to pursue their pre-university qualifications.

This transition from secondary school to university marks a significant point in the academic journey of a student. Post-secondary students embarking on university life for the first time often experience pangs of anxiety and uncertainties as they face new challenges of adapting to a new environment. Students will transition from a relatively structured school study environment with regulated class timetables and tuition classes to a more independent study environment, where they will need to plan and manage their own study time, form new social circles of friends, adapt to different learning modes and face potentially life-changing options relating to future career choices.

Research and literature reviews on student transitions have shown the importance of providing academic and social support during this period of transition. According to one study by Carol Mutch, faculty members highly recommended that first year students transitioning in university should develop “life skills” such as the ability to cope with change, the ability to make clear and safe decisions and taking ownership for them, the ability to manage stress and the ability to manage emotions while keeping a positive frame of mind.

Such “life skills” or non-cognitive competencies, in addition to intellectual capabilities, have also been recognised as predictors of students’ success and academic performance, and are directly linked to the level of emotional intelligence of an individual. Emotional intelligence involves the ability to be self-aware of one’s own emotions and being able to manage and control them to achieve individual and relationship goals. Studies have also shown that having higher emotional intelligence could be considered as a reason why some students experience a more successful transition than others.

Recognising these challenges, the Malaysian Foundation Programme team at Heriot-Watt University Malaysia initiated the Youth Transformation Programme (YTP), which was specifically designed based on positive education practices to help post-secondary school students transition successfully into their foundation studies at university.

Positive education, which is based on the science of wellbeing and happiness, is an approach to education that blends academic learning with character and wellbeing development, preparing students with life skills such as optimism, resilience, a growth mindset, engagement and others.

Based on such positive education practices and the emotional intelligence competency framework by Daniel Goleman, YTP aims to grow every student to their fullest potential with activities designed to take them out of their comfort zones and at the same time develop a strong and positive mindset. The programme aims to develop students’ emotional intelligence through specially designed workshops that help to develop their self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.  

For instance, in the session on how to cultivate a successful mindset, students are taught to “re-wire their brains”, and encouraged to remove the word “problem” from their vocabulary and replace it with the word “opportunity”. Other activities conducted develop the students’ interpersonal skills and self-confidence, team dynamics, creativity and innovation skills.  Students also attend talks from industry practitioners who share insights on future job opportunities and are guided to develop their own personal SMART Goals to instil a strong sense of purpose.

With more than 300 participants having completed the programme since it started in 2017, students and parents alike have shared the positive changes they have personally experienced. According to Abdul Rashid Abdul Majid, the programme enabled him to “overcome his fear of approaching others and improved his communication and leadership skills”. Michael Ong shared that he “learned to be more aware of his own actions… and also the importance of being grateful”. Tengku Irdina binti Tengku Shariman shared that the YTP helped her to “gain more self-confidence and motivation to face new challenges”, which she was able to apply during her foundation year at Heriot-Watt University.

Many other students have also shared how the YTP experience has helped them to be more focused in realising their ambitions and form new friendships and social support which, in turn, eased their adjustment to a new university environment.

With positive education and the development of the students’ emotional intelligence, they are taught coping strategies in managing their time effectively, cultivating a positive mindset, and developing self-confidence, interpersonal and communication skills and a sense purpose, essential skills that will go a long way in helping them thrive during their transition period from school to university.  Consequently, the YTP has been instrumental in enabling students to have a successful start to their university life at Heriot-Watt.

For further information on YTP, and to hear student and parent testimonials, visit its YouTube page at To find out more about Heriot-Watt University Malaysia’s programmes or scholarships on offer, visit the campus on its Open Days, or during consultation hours from 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 10am to 4pm on Saturdays. Alternatively, log on to or call +603 8894 3888/e-mail


More than 300 participants have completed Heriot-Watt University Malaysia’s Youth Transformation Programme (YTP) since it was first introduced in 2017. Among others, the Youth Transformation Programme (YTP) is designed to develop interpersonal skills, self-confidence, team dynamics and creative thinking.

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