"Figuring it Out": A Grounded Theory of College to Post-College Transition
Fox, Kirsten Freeman
Komives, Susan R
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Before colleges and universities can be truly effective in preparing students for a post-college life, an understanding of the college to post-college transition process for recent college graduates is needed. Although there is extensive literature characterizing the college experience, little research exists surrounding the experiences of recent college graduates, especially during the transition out of college. The purpose of this study was to understand the transition from college to post-college life for recent college graduates. Conducted from a constructivist epistemological paradigm, this study employed grounded theory methods to understand how participants interpreted their post-college transition experience. Specifically, this study aimed to understand the post-college transition process, the experiences most salient during the transition, and how recent graduates make meaning of post-college life. In-depth interviews were conducted with a diverse sample of 13 recent graduates from a large, Mid-Atlantic research institution over 18 months. The result was the emergence of a theory of college to post-college transition grounded in the perspectives and experiences of the participants. The grounded theory of college to post-college transition builds upon three findings: the process of post-college transition, the construct of transitioning adult, and how recent graduates approach the transition. The post-college transition process was characterized by navigating a series of realizations about self and what matters. This process of "figuring it out," incorporated four active and overlapping characteristics germane to the transition: managing loss, establishing place, focusing on self, and searching for purpose. The transition process was also enhanced by participants' ability to negotiate external influences and internal coping strategies. Through the stories of the participants, it also emerged that recent college graduates equate the post-college transition with the transition to adulthood. The "transitioning adults" navigated the post-college transition through one of five distinct approaches: Initiator, Instrumentalist, Observer, Adaptor, and Traditionalist. The findings are relevant for recent college graduates and college students preparing to graduate, as well as for employers, parents, faculty, and college administrators. This research also has implications for student affairs practice and workforce preparedness. Finally, the findings inform both theory development and future research, particularly on lifespan development and transition theory.