Brief Overview

If you have ever played the board game LIFE, Schlossberg’s Transition Theory won’t come as a big surprise. LikeLIFE, transition theory helps adults process and grow from unexpected (real) life turns.

According to Evans et al. (2010), Schlossberg’s Transition Theory exists “to develop a framework that would facilitate an understanding of adults in transition and aid them in connecting to the help they needed to cope with the ‘ordinary and extraordinary process of living.”

What is a transition?

  • Good question! Goodman et al. (2006) defines a transition as “any event, or non-event, that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles.” Transitions can be positive or negative experiences and endues positive or negative stress, emotions or reactions. Transitions are all about perception! (and only exits in definition to the individual experiencing it). Very important!
  • The three transitions types are anticipated (such as expecting to graduate for college), unanticipated (divorce, sudden death, not being accepted to graduate school, etc.) or a nonevent.
  • Transitions have context and are determined by the individuals relationship to the environmental setting in which the transition is occurring.
  • The impact of the transition varies depending on the alterations it causes in an individual’s daily life.



Printable Summary (PDF)


Previous cohorts of FSU students have developed these printable summaries and used them to prepare for test and papers.  We hope they’ll be of help to you too.




Information submitted by Teng Zhao & Jason Montalvo

Stages, Levels, Phases, and Components of the Theory


Transitions usually occur as a series of phases, which are called “moving in,” “moving through,” and “moving out.” Transitions are a process and occur over time.

The 4 S’s

The four factors that affect one’s ability to cope with transition are: situation, self, support and strategies.

  • Situation
    • Trigger, Timing, Control, Role change, Duration, Previous experience with a similar transition, Concurrent stress, Assessment
  • Self
    • Two kinds: personal & demographic characteristics (SES, gender, age, health, ethnicity, culture etc.) and psychological resources (ego development, outlook, commitment, resilience, spirituality, self-efficacy, values etc.)
  • Support
    • Types (intimate, family, friends, institutional), functions (affects, affirmation, aid, honest feedback) & measurements (stable and changing supports)
  • Strategies
    • Three categories: Modify the situation, control the meaning of the problem, or aid in the managing of stress afterwards
    • Four coping models: information seeking, direct action, inhibition of action, intrapsychic behavior

Go ahead, spin the LIFE wheel. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to draw the Student Development Professional career card paired with $100,000 per year!

Application of Theory to Practice

This section is designed to provide student affairs professionals, staff, and faculty members with tips and tools to apply theory to practice.




Information for this section was provided by Erica Wiborg.



Annotations of Associated Literature




Original Citation

Schlossberg, N.K., Waters, E.B., & Goodman, J. (1995). Counseling adults in transition: Linking practice with theory. New York: Springer.

Additional Resources


About the Author

Dr. Nancy K. Schlossberg is an expert in the areas of adult transitions, retirement, career development, adults as learners, and intergenerational relationships. Past President of the National Career Development Association, Co-President of a consulting group TransitionWorks, she is a Professor Emerita, Department of Counseling and Personnel Services, College of Education at the University of Maryland.  She previously served on the faculties of Wayne State University, Howard University, and Pratt Institute.  She was the first woman executive at the American Council of Education (ACE) where she established the Office of Women in Higher Education (1973).  She later served as a Senior Fellow at ACE’s Center on Adult Learning.

Biography retrieved from For more information on Dr. Schlossberg, please visit

This page was written and created by Ashlie Baty. The webpage is maintained by Amanda Peerce and Jesse Ford.  For information on the page, please contact Amanda Peerce at or Jesse Ford at