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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.

Social-Belonging for College Students 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, Social-Belonging for College Students 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 Black, Latinx, and first-generation students at a large, public four-year university
  • .09 increase in cumulative first-year GPA among Black, Latinx, and first-generation students at a selective, private four-year university

Complementary with other student success efforts

Social-Belonging for College Students 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 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-minute online module independently over the summer or on campus during new student orientation.

4. Track Impact

See which students completed the program, and, if desired, compare with engagement metrics and academic outcomes.

Information Packet

Review 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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Have additional questions? Review our FAQ!

Supporting Resources

In addition to the Program Information Packet, the following resources include a marketing brochure, an implementation summary, as well as sample program materials like facilitator instructions and a student communication.

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The Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) is a nonprofit research and development institute that translates insights from psychological science into cutting-edge tools, measures, and recommendations that educators anywhere can use to foster healthy and equitable academic engagement and success. 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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