Work-integrated learning and the importance of peer support and sense of belonging

The purpose of this paper is to explore the relationship between peer support and sense of belonging on the mental health and overall well-being, with a specific focus on comparing the perceptions of students in a work-integrated learning (WIL) program to those in a traditional non-WIL program. Semi-structured group interviews were conducted with 25 participants, selected from a university with a WIL program. Interview data captured perceptions of peer support, sense of belonging, and how these influenced mental health, overall well-being, and confidence in making school-to-work transitions. Analysis followed the grounded theory approach of Glaser. The analysis revealed that peer support and sense of belonging were essential protective factors for university student’s mental health and well-being, particularly during off-campus work terms or when transitioning to the labor market after graduation. Data suggested that participating in a WIL program can exacerbate students’ perceived barriers to accessing peer support resources and, in turn, lead to poor mental health.