Almost all first-year students experience challenges in the transition to college, such as failing a test or feeling like they aren’t making friends. For students who are socially disadvantaged in higher education—including students of color, low income students, and first-generation college students—persistent negative stereotypes and underrepresentation can lead them to wonder if they belong in college, especially when faced with challenges and setbacks. This concern can lead to social and academic withdrawal which, in turn, leads to lower academic achievement and persistence.

The Social-Belonging Program aims to help all students view challenges encountered in the transition to college as normal and improvable so they are more able to remain socially and academically engaged in the face of challenges. In previous studies, the Social-Belonging Program has been effective in improving both social and academic engagement on campus as well as GPA and retention among socially disadvantaged students.

Social-Belonging for College Students is a joint partnership between the College Transition Collaborative (CTC) and PERTS.

I don't tell my friends, but I’m nervous for college. I’m nervous I’ll feel out of place with kids who go out to eat…or that I’ll be in for a big shock when I get what would have been a great assignment at home back with a poor grade. But college is essentially a lot of people, and all of them are different…professors are people, people who care about students and learning. I will feel a little out of my depth at first, but so does every other person there. That’s why [my college] has resources to help ease the transition, like advisors…So I’m nervous about the first part, getting through to the security, but I know that’s coming, so everything WILL be okay! Student essay from past implementation of Social-Belonging for College Students
One of the things that’s really difficult when you’re on the ground in an institution is to do this work and know it’s working. To know what we’re doing has solid research behind it is priceless. Administrator at CTC partner institution

About the Program

Short, easy-to-implement

This 30-minute online program includes reading short essays, a brief reflection exercise, and brief survey questions. Students will read and write short essays designed to emphasize how difficulties in the transition to college are normal and can be overcome with time.


Rigorously tested in multiple randomized controlled trials with thousands of college students. Findings include:

  • 13 percentage point increase in first-year, full-time enrollment among college-admitted high school seniors at four urban charter schools
  • 4 percentage point increase in first-year, full-time enrollment among minority and first-generation students at a large, public four-year university
  • .09 increase in cumulative first-year GPA among minority and first-generation students at a selective, private four-year university

Complementary with other student success efforts

The Social-Belonging Program is typically implemented as one component of new student orientation among other activities. It is meant to complement your institution’s existing student success efforts. It can also help provide insights into student experiences at your school, which may inform other institutional programs around student achievement, persistence, and wellbeing.


We’re thrilled to bring you Social-Belonging for College Students as an open enrollment program, and we want to involve as many 4-year colleges and universities as possible.

We’re a small team and we want everyone who participates to have a great experience. We’re offering our programs for free to eligible colleges thanks to our generous funders.

How It Works

1. Learn & Discuss

Download the Program Information Packet to learn how participation works.

2. Sign-up

Create a user account and prepare to participate using our online platform.

3. Participate

Incoming first-year students complete a 30-min web module independently over the summer or on campus during new student orientation.

4. Track Impact

See how many students completed the program and receive a report about the program’s impact at your school.

Learn More

Here you can find additional information to learn about how to bring Social-Belonging for College Students to your campus. This section includes promotional materials and sample implementation documents.

Program Information

These materials provide a helpful introduction to the program. You can use these documents to familiarize yourself with the program or to share with your colleagues. The Program Information Packet goes in-depth about the research behind the program and how to get your college signed up. We’ve also compiled the answers to your most frequently asked questions here.

Supporting Documents

The supporting documents here provide more information about the program implementation process, including how you’ll get your college signed up, sample facilitator instructions, and sample student handouts.

Information Packet

Download the Program Information Packet to learn more about the research and how to run Social-Belonging for College Students at your college.

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PERTS is a nonprofit institute. We believe that evidence-based strategies should benefit all students, not just the privileged few. To make research accessible to all, we empower educators everywhere to implement evidence-based strategies cost-effectively. We are so excited to bring you Social-Belonging for College Students and to make the latest research on social belonging strategies actionable to every college in the United States.

About the CTC

The College Transition Collaborative (CTC) brings together researchers and higher education leaders to create learning environments that produce more equitable post-secondary outcomes. Our work places the student experience at the center of student success initiatives, conveying to all students they are valued, respected, and can excel even in the face of difficulties and setbacks. We work with colleges and universities to ensure that, particularly during moments of challenge, students feel like they are able to persevere and that their school cares about their success.

For More Information

  • Learn more about our work and how schools can get involved on our website.
  • Read about our previous work as covered by The New York Times here and here.
  • Read more about the results of our latest large-scale trials, published in PNAS.
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