College is a time full of transitions and new experiences. Early on, there’s the transition to learning in a new environment, and for many, living away from home for the first time. There’s learning new things as you explore a major and classes become more and more focused on your discipline. There might be a transition to a new major or other significant events and experiences that happen in your pathway. All and all, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. You may ask yourself questions like, “Do I really belong here?” and “Am I smart enough to make it?”

But, it’s not just you who feels this way—what many students don’t realize is that some kind of adverse experience and these types of feelings of not belonging are very common in college. Your challenges are likely not going to be the same ones as everyone else, but all students deal with challenges at some point in their college careers. And, you’ll discover that you get better at dealing with these issues over time, in part by using more of the supports that are available to you. Now, it’s not like you’ll get to your senior year and be like, “I have conquered all of my problems and insecurities.” But, we can say that the things we get hung up on are more surmountable than we first think. ​

The UBelong Collaborative is conducting research on how best to understand students’ experiences with challenges and  support student belonging. This team from Purdue University, University of Pittsburgh, and University of California, Irvine, are investigating how reflection on and discussion of challenges can better equip students to frame these normal experiences as typical and not unique to them. So, when you feel overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. Reach out and talk to others—it’s likely more common than you think. And, if someone else has not had the same experience, they likely have some other experience with a common theme on which you can relate.

Allison Godwin, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Cornell University.

Other members of the UBelong Collaborative:  Linda DeAngelo, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Pittsburgh.
Kevin Binning, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Chris Schunn, Ph.D., is a Professor of Learning Sciences and Policy at the University of Pittsburgh.
Natascha Trellinger Buswell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Teaching in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC Irvine
The UBelong Collaborative also benefits from the support of a large team of collaborators including:
Maricela Bañuelos, Bev Conrique, Carlie Cooper, Charlie Díaz, Gerard Dorvé-Lewis, Ketura Elie, Rachel Forster, Hee Jung Gong, Cherry Ji, Kevin Kaufman-Ortiz, Audrika Khondaker, Danielle Lewis, Dr. Eric McChesney, Dr. Erica McGreevy, Dr. Heather Perkins, Jacqueline Rohde, Kelly Tatone, Dr. Rob Toutkoushian, and Dr. Nelson Zounlome.