Adjustment to College

Going to college is a major life transition, especially for late adolescents attending a residential college away from their home town. They must deal with issues of identity and autonomy, rebuild their social networks, and attend to the academic demands of the institution. In a series of studies, we examine how different types of adolescents negotiate these changes in different types of college environments, attending especially to the intersection of personal, social, and academic facets of the transition.

Developing a Sense of Belonging Project

College Adjustment for International and Ethnic Minority Adolescents

Social Media Use and College Adjustment Project


Belonging at College

A substantial number of students leave the college they initially attend after their first or second year. Often this is attributed to academic or financial difficulties, but more recent research emphasizes the critical need for adolescents to feel “at home,” to have a sense of belonging at their institution. Often, this involves social or personal issues more than academic or financial factors. In collaboration with colleagues at other universities, we are investigating the ways in which students develop a sense of belonging

Issues we want to explore:

  • How does a sense of belonging develop among students attending Predominantly White Institutions?
  • What are the differences in sense of belonging between Students of Color and White students?
  • To what extent does a sense of belonging depend on contextual factors such as, educational environment, culture, social and academic activities, and student relationships?
  • Are the essential interpersonal connections with school staff (professors, advisors), peers (friends, roommates), or both that are critical to belonging? Does this vary by demographic or personal factors or by the institution?
  • How can college programs or structures best promote, build, and foster a sense of belonging?

Adjustment for International and Ethnic Minority Adolescents

For international students, going to college in the U.S. involves not only the elements of a normative developmental transition but also the adjustment demands of living in a new culture. This may be true to a different degree for many students from under-represented ethnic groups on campus.

Issues we want to explore:

  • How effective are various strategies that international and ethnic minority students employ to negotiate the dual (developmental and cultural) transition that occurs as they enter college?
  • How do the campus climate and campus environment contribute to these students’ psychosocial adjustment?
  • How effective are campus organizations or programs aimed at fostering academic adjustment or social connections among international and ethnic minority students? Under what conditions are the campus climate conducive to developing positive racial and ethnic identity?

Social Media and College Adjustment

College is an opportunity to change or reaffirm one’s identity and reorganize one’s social and support networks. Social media can play a key role in these processes, especially as young people make the transition from home to college life. We study media use among a general population of college students in different college environments. We consider how social media use can affect identity development, pursuing friendships and romantic relationships, and accruing social capital.

Key findings:

  • There are norms about which media to use at different points in a relationship. Using the wrong media at the wrong time and short-circuit a budding friendship or romance. (See Yang, Brown, & Braun, 2014).
  • The more that Chinese college students disclose about themselves on social networking sites, the more bridging social capital they gain. That’s also true for bonding social capital, but it depends on the number of positive responses students get to what they post (see Liu & Brown, 2014).
  • Do college students suffer if they spend a lot of time online playing games or seeking online (vs. face-to-face) relationships? It depends on their motives for using social media. (see Yang & Brown, 2013).
  • Students can garner more positive feedback from Facebook friends when they post information that is honest and personal, but their self-esteem is most likely to be boosted when they think carefully about what they post (see Yang, 2015).