Everyone looks forward to making new friends at university, although none of us gets taught exactly how to do it. Rather, we learn by an (often clumsy) kind of trial and error – by experience. As such, I thought I’d summarise a few things that I’ve picked up from my own trials (and errors) with making friends at uni. If the advice below seems relevant and relatable, that’s great! If not, please – ignore me!
One of the most unhelpful misconceptions people have about uni friendships is that they are somehow miraculously different to all others. They believe that merely being on campus has the magic power to turn strangers into perfect lifelong friends overnight. Yet this is not quite how it works. Just as it took time for you to form your current friends from school or through work, expect it to take time to form the genuine friendships you’re after at university.
2. Be Charitable
If you talk to new people long enough, someone will say something embarrassing. And after a while, that someone may end up being you. None of us are masters of the social arena and all of us know what it’s like to put our foot in our mouths. Knowing this, be charitable to the people you talk to. It’s easy to make judgements of course, but first impressions are not always what they seem. You would be sceptical of anyone who thought they could tell you everything about yourself after only knowing you for ten minutes… so you shouldn’t take your own first impressions of others as absolute.
3. Freshers’ Week Isn’t Uni
Freshers’ Week is not university! If you find the life-long friends you were after still seem absent in the wake of Freshers’ Week – don’t worry. This is especially true for the more introverted folks (like myself). The events of Freshers’ Week mostly seem to circle around outgoing activities: going out on nights out, dancing and drinking. But if this doesn’t appeal, you needn’t panic. Uni isn’t Freshers’ Week and opportunities for making friends aren’t limited to the dance floor. If it’s not your sort of thing, figure out what is and try making that your priority.
We all know what it’s like to receive a genuine compliment from someone. There are few substitutes for the warm sense of appreciation we feel in response. So if you find yourself noticing something commendable about a person – whether it’s their generosity, humour, or something completely random – do the universe a favour and tell them! I made this a rule for myself during Freshers’ Week: if I noticed something I really liked about a person, I had an obligation to let them know. I quickly realised that nothing bad could come from voicing a pleasant and authentic observation about someone.
5. Conversation Doesn’t Always Equal Friendship
I study Philosophy. So, when I came to uni, I expected to make friends with the first person bold enough to ask me exactly what I thought of Kant’s Categorical Imperative (if you don’t know what that is, you may be one of the lucky ones). It seemed, with everyone on my course studying the same subject as me, conversation would follow naturally – as would friendship. I soon learned however that one can talk about philosophical things with many – but one can develop lasting friendships with few. In my experience, I found that with some people I spoke to, conversation flowed so naturally I would leave wanting to know what that person thought about absolutely everything. There’s a beautiful serendipity to these moments. With others, it seemed something in the dynamic was lacking. So while you shouldn’t close off potential friendships too soon, don’t feel disheartened if every course mate doesn’t end up being an actual mate.
6. If You’ve Got Something To Say – Say It!
One obstacle I found to forming uni friendships was my habit of second-guessing myself. I would be present in a conversation, think of something interesting to say – but then doubt that it would in fact be interesting, that anyone else would want to hear it. Throughout my first year, I slowly realised how unhelpful this attitude was; how it put an end to a myriad of potential conversations and friendships. I now understand it’s also mistaken. Fellow students aren’t scrutinizing every remark, they aren’t conversational invigilators, and socialising is not an exam. Rather, everyone new to university is in the same boat: THEY ARE ALL TRYING TO MAKE FRIENDS TOO! So if you’ve got something interesting to say (and I learned this the hard way) say it!