Transition to higher education is a widely examined topic. However, higher education is currently a field in continuous change, due to global health, economic and social developments. This special issue provides empirical research on transition to higher education in the context shaped by these developments, where especially diversity of the student population is a salient feature. The special issue contributes to a better understanding of factors that can influence successful or less stressful transitions into higher education for a diverse student body. To achieve this aim, the special issue goes beyond considering individual factors, such as student characteristics, to examine also the impact of the institutional environments and of national educational policies. The methodological contribution complements the substantive one, through employing research designs that can allow a widened empirical examination combining the various individual, institutional and policy levels. The studies focus on different methodologies and approaches to studying the role of diversity in the transition process. 

The study of Van der Zanden, Denessen, Cillessen, and Meijer longitudinally investigates the relationships between teacher practices in secondary education and first-year student academic achievement and social and emotional adjustment at university. Results show that teachers in secondary education have a long-term impact on first-year students’ social and emotional adjustment. 

Willems, van Daal, Van Petegem, Coertjens and Donche investigate how students’ psychosocial variables at the end of secondary education impact academic adjustment in two HE contexts: professional and academic. The findings highlight that the role of individual characteristics for academic success differs from one context to another. 

The study by Jenert and Brahm identifies three profiles of first-year students that demonstrate the individual diversity of the student body, with different reactions to the characteristics and events of the first-year environment among students, emphasising the need for more customised support structures during the first year of higher education.

Bohndick, Bosse, Jänsch, and Barnat endorsed a person-centred approach combined with structural equation modelling on the perception of institutional requirements, suggesting the value of differences in the perception of requirements as a guideline for the design of support activities.

The study of De Clercq, Hospel, Galand and Frenay highlights the diversity of the student body in 21 study programs, with students’ differences in perception as the characteristics of the context explaining success variation. 

Balloo and Winstone provide a methodological demonstration on how institutions can carry out nuanced analyses of their institutional data by combining different levels of analysis of diversity. The findings inform understanding of potential reasons for differential study success during transition to HE and the design of context-specific interventions focused on reducing achievement gaps. 

In their study, Dalhberg, Vigmo and Surian, compare institutional policies of two higher education institutions in Sweden and Italy and ethnographically  investigate generated student narratives regarding their individual transition to Higher Education from a migrant perspective. Results show how policy ideas about widening participation and transition shape students’ experiences of participation, normalisation, and marginalisation in their own HEI. 

The commentary article by Van der Meer connects the articles from this special issue to research in the New Zealand HE context and poses the question of diversity in relation to the concept of “the whole student”. The discussion engages with issues raised by the contributions in the field of transitioning to HE as well as further developing the theoretical model of addressing diversity in HE.