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Mattering and the College Student Experience

Insights from the OUE Research Team

“Mattering” is the feeling that people pay attention to us, regard us as important, depend on us, appreciate us, and recognize us as individuals. Although strongly related to (and an important predictor of) feelings of belonging, mattering is a distinct concept that holds space for one’s inherent value and uniqueness, which is independent of but can be informed and affirmed by fit and context. Prior research with undergraduate students suggests that mattering contributes to students’ psychological well-being as well as achievement and eagerness to excel in their coursework.

Data from the AAC’s 2022–23 Major Declaration Survey show that a majority of students (64.0%) agree or strongly agree that they feel like they matter at Duke. At the same time, a significant proportion of students report either ambivalence about their sense of mattering (25.4%), or outright disagree that they feel like they matter at Duke (10.5%). First-generation and aided students (compared to continuing-generation and unaided students, respectively) reported lower levels of mattering, and Black students reported lower levels of mattering than did White students (Asian/Asian American, Hispanic/Latine/o/a/x, and multiracial students did not differ from either Black or White students).

Consistent with previous research, we find that students’ feelings of mattering at Duke are associated with well-being, including lower levels of stress and loneliness, and higher levels of academic engagement, belonging, and perceived physical and mental health. In addition, mattering was associated with having more interaction with faculty members and students’ ratings of the quality of advising they received prior to major declaration. These findings highlight the potential role of teaching, advising, and mentoring relationships in communicating to students that they matter.