When a college student feels a sense of belonging at their institution, they feel valued, accepted, and supported.
Students’ sense of belonging has also been linked to academic success, persistence, and overall well-being. In fact, students who report a sense of belonging at the end of their first year seem to do better than their counterparts.
Colleges across the nation have been looking at ways to foster students’ sense of belonging at their campus, but what role does the student have in bolstering it for themselves? In addition, when looking at potential colleges, what are some things to look for to determine if it is a place where your student can feel connected, seen, and celebrated?
Representation matters, especially for historically underrepresented and marginalized populations. When educators look like their students, they are providing an example of what academic success looks like. Having faculty and staff members of similar backgrounds or experiences can lead to a deeper connection and more engaged learning. When visiting a college, look around. Are there students, faculty, and staff that look like your student? Encourage your student to connect with a faculty or staff member that they can relate to on a deeper level. This can directly impact a student’s sense of belonging and even open the door to a mentoring relationship.
2. Physical Space
Have you ever walked into a room and instantly felt at home? Conversely, have you walked into a place where it felt cold and stiff? When you don’t feel welcome, you don’t want to stay. The same is true for college campuses. When looking at a campus, check-in and see how your student feels. Can they see themselves there? Are there dedicated physical spaces for them to connect with one another, such as student lounges, club spaces, and resource rooms?
3. Programs and Support Services
A primary way for students to have a sense of community and feel connected to campus is through engagement with student programs and services. When determining if a particular college is a good fit for your student, discover what student programs and services they have available.
This is particularly important for historically underserved populations. It’s one thing for a college to say they support LGBTQIA+ students, first-generation, or BIPOC students, but are there specific programs, support services, and clubs available?
Many colleges nationwide and in California have the designation of Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). However, it’s essential to discover how that is lived out. Are these communities celebrated and are their unique needs addressed? Look for a diversity of programs, services, and resources. Once identified, it’s important for your student to utilize such opportunities. Encourage them to attend events or get involved in clubs or programs specifically for them. Not only will they be able to grow in their own identity, but they will meet people with similar experiences and/or backgrounds, allowing them to build community, feel seen and understood, and ultimately have a greater sense of belonging.
4 Combating Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence. College students are not immune to struggling with imposter syndrome, especially in historically underrepresented and marginalized communities. When college student does not believe college is for them or that they do not belong, they can begin to disengage. It’s important to combat those feelings and thoughts. They can do this by first recognizing their feelings and negative self-talk. Once identified, they can begin to reject the negative thoughts and replace them with positive affirmations such as “I do belong here.” “College is for me.” As a parent, you can support them in this by first asking how they are feeling and reminding them that they do belong.
It’s no secret that COVID changed the landscape of higher education. Colleges are now increasing their online and hybrid offerings. While this allows for greater flexibility, it can have a negative impact on how connected a student feels to their institution. It’s important for students to not limit their own experience to the classroom but engage in opportunities that extend beyond the classroom. This may require additional effort on the part of the college student if the majority of their learning is online. Encourage your student to participate in on-campus events and/or connect with their peers through study groups and learning communities.
College is an exciting time in a young person’s life. It’s a time for them to grow not just academically, but personally as well. Feeling that sense of belonging leads to greater engagement and success and therefore is an important factor when determining what college to attend and how to engage once on campus.