How can peers make a difference in first-generation college students’ purpose in life?

Lund, T. J., Liang, B., Lincoln, B., White, A. E., Mousseau, A. M. D., Mejia Gomez, L. A., & Akins, E. (2022). Purpose in life among first-generation college Students: Friends make a difference. Youth, 2(1), 12–22.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest:

  • Having a purpose in life is associated with many positive academic, economic, & psychological outcomes for adolescents and young adults.
  • Peer relationships can help promote a sense of purpose among first-generation college students (FGC).
  • This study a) explores the relationship between peer relationships and purpose formation among FGC and b) how effective peer relationships are for FGC, in general.
  • Findings confirmed that higher-quality relationships correlated with a stronger dedication to purpose formation.
  • Results also indicate that peer mentoring is more important in the purpose formation of FGC than their peers.
  • The quality of friendships plays an essential role in an FGC’s sense of purpose and belonging. Having a close friend can make a difference.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Purpose in life is linked with numerous positive outcomes among adolescents and emerging adults. Peer relationships may play an important role in the cultivation of purpose, especially among first-generation college (FGC) students. The present study examined the association between the quality of peer relationships and commitment to purpose among students from three universities (N = 195). Analyses also examined whether FGC student status moderated this association. The results indicated that the quality of peer relationships significantly predicted commitment to purpose. FGC status moderated this association; high-quality relationships with peers helped close the gap in purpose commitment between FGC students and their counterparts.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

College is a fertile context for the exploration, identification, and pursuit of purpose [6,27]. Research has shown that relationships may play an important role in cultivating purpose [23,25]. This may be particularly true among college students, as peer relationships are linked with positive development among college students [33,34,35,36]. The present study examined whether high-quality peer relationships predicted a greater commitment to purpose among college students from three universities across the United States. We also examined whether FGC students would benefit more from relationships with peers, given that these students face greater barriers in attending college and lack the cultural capital of their peers whose parents did attend college [49,52,56,57,58]. Aligned with theory and research on the importance of people in the promotion of purpose [25], our findings demonstrated that higher-quality peer relationships were associated with a greater commitment to purpose. In addition, higher-quality peer relationships mattered more in purpose formation for students who were the first in their families to go to college, compared to their non-FGC student peers. These findings are consistent with evidence on the importance of peers in positive outcomes for FGC students [37].

The results of the present study constitute an important addition to the growing literature on the role people play in cultivating purpose among adolescents and emerging adults [9,22,23,25]. Our results supported our first hypothesis; high-quality relationships with peers at college may aid in purpose formation. These findings align with both theory on the importance of relationships in purpose cultivation [6,25] and previous research that has demonstrated that peer friendships contribute to positive development during the college years [34,36,58,67]. In fact, when compared to family support, peer support has been a more consistent predictor of adjustment in college students. This is not surprising given that most students who attend a residential college live away from home, where peer friendships are more accessible.

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