Students’ peer relationships and their contribution to university adjustment: the need to belong in the university community

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Whilst new friendships and an active social life are commonly discussed features of ‘being a student’, there is limited empirical research that has quantitatively studied the contribution that social factors play in students’ university experience. Research that has been conducted shows that belonging and social integration are important factors in successful transition to university, and subsequent retention (Pittman and Richmond 2008; Wilcox et al 2005). This paper presents research into students’ social relationships at university, their attachment to the university, and how these elements link to university adjustment. Undergraduates (n = 135) completed questionnaires measuring their attachment to university peers, attachment to the university, experiences of problematic peer relationships, and quality of adjustment to university life. Students who reported strong attachment with their peers also had higher levels of university adjustment and university attachment. Students who reported difficulties in their relationships with other students had lower levels of peer attachment and university adjustment. Attachment to university peers was the strongest predictor of university adjustment, followed by attachment to the university. The research highlights the role of social relationships in institutional belonging, and the importance of nurturing peer relationships and institutional affiliation for a positive student experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)756-768
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
Issue number6
Early online date1 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jun 2017


  • Transition
  • university
  • higher education
  • peer relationships
  • attachment
  • belonging


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