The purpose of this study was to explore, understand and explain the academic performance and experiences of Grade 12 top achievers in first-year university programmes. The study also aimed at exploring the perceptions and expectations of these students with regard to teaching and learning. The study was conducted with 2011 and 2012 matric top ten learners from Mpumalanga province in South Africa.
In this study, I used mixed methods research. Accordingly, a questionnaire was administered; this preceded the qualitative part of the study in which I used a standardised, open-ended interview and document analysis. The study subsequently revealed that in their first year at university generally, first-year students experiences and academic performance are important for students transition into university, persistence and academic success.
In this study I move from the basic premise that first-year students enter the university (system) with individual characteristics such as self-conception, language proficiency, study skills, socio-cultural orientation and socio-economic backgrounds, as well as attitudes towards academic work. Consequently, the first-year student finds the transition from school to university to be one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish.
The study reports on the experiences and academic performance of first-year students at different universities and studying different courses or degrees. One of the major findings of the study is that although some of the participants (top achievers) complained about the lack of support on the part of universities, the results revealed that there was what I call compelling forces at different universities that assisted top achievers/participants in maintaining the momentum in their academic performance.