Sense of belonging is a key predictor of student success for college students (Strayhorn 2008; 2012). This sense of belonging can be enhanced when students find peers that they can identify with and develop relationships with (Gravett and Winstone 2020; Felten and Lambert 2020; Winkle-Wagner et al. 2019). Belonging is known to be an important predictor of one’s mental health and well-being, and it is crucial for achieving self-actualization (Maslow 1987).

So how do we help students find like-minded people to bond with and develop relationships with, so they will experience these benefits? One solution commonly used in higher education is to cohort students. Some commonly-used places where this happens before arrival on campus are living learning communities, academic fellows programs, and programming for student-athletes. However, these cohorts can also be formed later through organizations such as fraternities and sororities, as well as through peer mentoring programs targeting different identity groups. Students within cohorts often report greater levels of trust, cohesiveness, and satisfaction (Greenlee and Karanxha 2010).

In theory, these cohorted experiences have positive effects and help students integrate well into the university. But sometimes these groups can have unintended consequences; students can become too reliant on these groups for social experiences and can possibly not buy into the overall mission and goals of the institution. For example, VanOra (2019) found that students who began their academic careers in a learning community identified four benefits: 1) a community that was supportive socially and intellectually; 2) opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary thinking; 3) a place to enhance academic self-efficacy; and 4) experiencing better pedagogy (e.g., active and engaging). However, there were some challenges experienced such as “lack of opportunity to connect with the larger college community and hyperbonding among classmates” (7). Inkelas and colleagues (2018) expand on this idea about hyperbonding by writing, “Students in an LLC deeply enjoyed and appreciated the social support they found in these communities, so much so that they isolated the entirety of their college peer interactions down to the small clique within their LLC” (128). While much of the research and discussion of hyperbonding has focused on LLCs, it is easy to see how this might take place in other cohorted experiences and could lead to the creation of a non-inclusive environment in which some are not welcome and do not have a sense of belonging. Research by McCabe (2016) examined the importance of friendships in academic and social success in college students. She identified one group of students as having a tight-knit friend group and found that those students had different experiences and opportunities based on their friend network compared to students with compartmentalizer or sampler friendship networks.

So what can be done if we see our students engaging in hyperbonding behavior? We need to guide and mentor these students in seeing the bigger picture of their academic experience and help them think intentionally about their academic and co-curricular pursuits. We should encourage them to take courses based on their interests and future goals and not necessarily those that their friends are taking. When thinking about study abroad or community service opportunities, choosing different programs than their friends may help them explore different interests, make for a more meaningful and rewarding experience, and possibly introduce them to other students to expand their friendship and mentoring networks. We should encourage them to engage in experiences that our campus values and to engage with students outside of their cohort. An expansion of friend and mentoring networks beyond what they currently maintain may open up other opportunities at the university and beyond (e.g., internships, jobs, etc.). These opportunities could be through residential learning communities, service learning, volunteering, global learning, or other academic experiences that they have not engaged in. The skills developed in these pursuits will hopefully help them meet new students and engage in the community at large.


Felten, Peter, and Leo M. Lambert. 2020. Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Gravett, Karen, and Naomi E. Winstone. 2020. “Making Connections: Authenticity and Alienation within Students’ Relationships in Higher Education.” Higher Education Research & Development 41 (2): 1–15.

Greenlee, Bobbie J., and Zorka Karanxha. 2010. “A Study of Group Dynamics in Educational Leadership Cohort and Non-Cohort Groups.” Journal of Research on Leadership Education 5 (11): 357–82.

Inkelas, Karen Kurotsuchi, Jody E. Jessup-Anger, Mimi Benjamin, and Matthew R. Wawrzynski. 2018. Living-Learning Communities That Work: A Research-Based Model for Design, Delivery, and Assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Maslow, Abraham H. 1987. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York: Harper and Row.

McCabe, Janice M. 2016. Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Strayhorn, Terrell L. 2008. “The Role of Supportive Relationships in Facilitating African American Males’ Success in College.” Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice 45 (1).

Strayhorn, Terrell L.  2012. College Students’ Sense of Belonging: A Key to Educational Success for All Students. New York: Routledge.

VanOra, Jason P. 2019. “The Impact of Learning Communities on the Experiences of Developmental Students in Community College: A Qualitative Study.” Learning Communities: Research & Practice 7 (1).

Winkle-Wagner, Rachelle, Carmen M. McCallum, Courtney Luedke, and Brittany Ota-Malloy. 2019. “Instrumental or Meaningful Friendships: Black Alumnae Perspectives on Peer Relationships During College.” Journal of Women and Gender in Higher Education 12 (3): 283–98.

Eric Hall is a professor of exercise science at Elon University, served as the inaugural CEL Senior Scholar, and co-leads the 2020-2023 research seminar on (Re)Examining Conditions for Meaningful Learning Experiences.

How to Cite this Post

Hall, Eric. 2023. “Challenges and Opportunities of Hyperbonding in College Relationships.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. January 3, 2023.