Story Graduation Initiative

CSU Campuses Easing the Transition to College Life

Christianne Salvador

Underserved students often arrive on campus with a unique set of challenges. The CSU’s Transition to College programs are helping them overcome barriers so they can hit the ground running.


​​​​​​​​​​​​New campus, new classes, new friends, new routine.

Starting college can be a dramatic life change for students—a milestone that is both exciting and overwhelming. Orientation programs can ease the transition into campus life by helping students become familiar with their new environment and their peers. For some students, however, facing a unique set of challenges requires a more tailored approach for becoming acclimated to college.

The type of support each student needs can vary based on his or her background and life circumstance. First-generation, low-income and students of color often face barriers that put them at a disadvantage compared to their peers. For these first-year and transfer students, CSU campuses have developed Transition to College programs that support their academic success.

Transition programs help underrepresented students overcome their unique challenges—such as those associated with imposter syndrome, lack of academic support and misconceptions about how the university functions—that can get in the way of achieving their full potential. The CSU has implemented transition programs at 19 campuses to prepare incoming students for a successful college career through mentoring, workshops and academic advising.

Fostering a Sense of Belonging

The Black Opportunities & Strategies for Success (BOSS) program at California State University, Dominguez Hills is helping African American students overcome insecurities brought on by imposter syndrome. The program fosters a sense of belonging for students of color as they transition to the campus by engaging them with current students, faculty, staff and alumni.

When Darlene Jones entered CSU Dominguez Hills​ as a first-time freshman, she felt lost and alone, avoiding interactions with her peers and advisors. Jones says the BOSS program has given her a greater chance of succeeding in college by connecting her with her campus colleagues.

“The BOSS program helped me realize the value of making connections in order to succeed," says Jones. “I met my advisor through BOSS and she introduced me to many people that studied nursing and are currently working in the field so I can be sure it's really what I want to do. Because of her, I learned so much about the field, and I'm fully aware of what it takes."

While the college experience for African Americans can vary widely, many of these students face the same feeling of social disconnect that leads to low retention rates.

“At California State University Channel Islands, a majority of our African American students come from outside the local area so for some of them it is a transition to leave their environment and move to a rural campus," explains Ginger Reyes of CSU Channel Islands' African American Outreach and Transitions Academy. “Not only are they faced with the academic transition of going to college, but also with the social transition."

CSUCI's African American Outreach and Transitions Academy offers a three-day overnight program prior to the start of the school year to reach students ahead of time and increase their chances of persisting. Participants learn about campus resources and strategies to succeed in the classroom while getting to know their peers and mentors. Once enrolled, academy scholars are grouped in a cohort for the rest of the year and, together, they engage in workshops, peer mentoring and social activities.

Empowering Parents to Support Students

In addition to providing support on campus, transition programs are ensuring students also receive adequate support at home.

Historically, many parents of first-generation and EOP students miss out on the traditional family orientation because EOP students move in to residence halls earlier than the rest of the student body or English is not the primary language spoken in their household. This can create a barrier for families to learn about campus resources and engage with faculty and staff.

Humboldt State University's New Family Orientation for First-Generation/EOP Families are offering orientations in both English and Spanish during EOP students' move-in dates, enabling every parent to form a relationship with campus staff and become empowered to provide academic support at home.

At California State University, Fresno, the usual one-day orientation is extended to a yearlong program through the First-Generation Families Support Program. First-generation students and their families learn to navigate the academic roadmap by attending various events about the school's programs and resources. Families complete the year feeling more connected to the campus and to other first-generation families, increasing each student's likelihood of staying in school through their first year.

Closing achievement gaps between underserved students and their peers is a goal of Graduation Initiative 2025. The CSU is dedicated to providing the support and services necessary to engage all students in the college experience, contributing to higher retention and graduation rates.

For more information about how the CSU is working to close equity and achievement gaps, visit the Graduation Initiative 2025 website.​​

Student Success