Domains and predictors of first-year student success: A systematic review

Tim van der Zee

For a number of decades, the stimulation of first-year student success has been an important theme in higher education and educational policies. For example, most students who drop out of university do so during or immediately after the first year. The predictors of first-year student success received much attention in educational practice and theory. To help first-year students succeed in higher education, many researchers and policymakers have tried to identify effective policies and practices.

However, first-year student success can be defined in various ways. By studying different theoretical research strands, van der Zanden, Denessen, Cillessen, and Meijer developed a conceptual framework consisting of three domains of first-year student success, namely students' academic achievement, critical thinking skills, and social-emotional well-being. The goal of this systematic literature review was to illustrate whether the predictors and their effects are similar and/or different across these three domains of first-year student success.

The results indicated that some predictors contributed to multiple domains of success, namely students’ previous academic performance, study skills, motivation, social relationships, and participation in first-year programs. Further, some predictors were typical for a specific domain. Academic achievement and social-emotional well-being were particularly related to factors within the student, whereas critical thinking skills were more related to the learning environment.


Source: van der Zanden, P. J., Denessen, E., Cillessen, A. H., & Meijer, P. C. (2018). Domains and predictors of first-year student success: A systematic literature review. Educational Research Review.

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