Summer Fun Can Help Students Find Belonging

June 17, 2024 By Audrey Breen, audreybreen@virginia.edu Audrey Breen, audreybreen@virginia.edu

From travel to internships, seasonal jobs, or an extra course, summer is a time for college students to break out of their typical semester routine. 

But Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, a professor in the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development’s higher education program, said the summer is also a good opportunity for college students to learn more about themselves by discovering new hobbies or activities.

And while these activities can be fun, they can also help college students develop a sense of belonging at school. 

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Inkelas studies the college experience, especially student belonging and well-being. College students experience high levels of stress and anxiety; Inkelas’ research has shown that a sense of belonging is connected to students’ well-being. 

While students often hope to leverage summer break to get ahead academically or take advantage of opportunities to improve their post-graduation employment prospects, Inkelas encourages students also to spend time doing something just because they like it and perhaps take time to explore new things.

“High-achieving students tend to drop out of college because they are having difficulty fitting in, not because they are struggling academically,” Inkelas said. “Finding people who share interests with you is a great way to make connections and find belonging in college. And spending time discovering what those things are is definitely not time wasted.”

Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, a professor in the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development’s higher education program
Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas, a professor in the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development’s higher education program, said finding new hobbies can lead students to join clubs and activities on Grounds. (Contributed photo)

When students return to their regular academic routines, they are likely to find an outlet to continue pursuing their newfound interests. UVA boasts more than 700 student clubs and organizations.

“Most colleges have a club for anything you could imagine,” Inkelas said. “And those clubs can create opportunities for community and connection – things that directly impact student wellbeing.”

The benefits of discovery extend well beyond finding community. College is a time of real pressures, with academic rigor, new responsibilities, and navigating friends and other relationships. Spending time over the summer to play and engage in fun can be a part of taking a much-needed break.

A close up of Professor Karen folding paper origami
Professor Karen Kurotsuchi Inkelas took up origami and other activities during a summer break. (Photo by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

“Students need to take some time to turn off the many appropriate stressors that are part of the college experience,” Inkelas said. “Engaging in new fun activities can be a helpful part of taking a break.”

Spending time actively discovering new activities may also impact students’ academic path.

“Some students enter college with a clear idea of what career they want and move in that direction from day one,” Inkelas said. “But for many, it takes some time to discover where they may find fulfillment. Taking some time over the summer to enjoy new things might help unlock some of those interests or talents.”

In her work, Inkelas also finds college to be a time when peers become increasingly accepting of who their friends are and what they like. 

Inkelas recommends students use the summer to try the things they have been thinking about doing but never got around to. Visit a farmer’s market, learn to bake, take up pickleball or even learn to make paper boxes, like Inkelas did, to discover new joys and ways to connect with others.

Media Contact

Audrey Breen

Senior Writer and Research Communications Strategist School of Education and Human Development