Feeling alone at university? So is everyone else

UBC study suggests first-year students who feel alone make fewer friends

Almost half of first-year students think they have fewer friends than their peers, a new UBC-Harvard study suggests.

In surveying more than 1,000 UBC students, researchers found that 48 per cent of first-years believed other students had made more friends that year that they did, while only 31 per cent believed they had more friends.

No suprise: Students who felt like they had fewer friends than their peers felt worse about themselves, and that feeling held them back from making new friends.

“We think students are motivated to make more friends if they think their peers only have one or two more friends than they do,” said study lead author Ashley Whillans, a Harvard Business School business professor who carried out the research with UBC PhD candidate Frances Chena. “But if they feel like the gap is too big, it’s almost as if they give up and feel it isn’t even worth trying.”

Those feelings of inadequacy are probably linked to how public students lives are because of all the communal space in universities, as well as social media.

“Since social activities, like eating or studying with others, tend to happen in cafes and libraries where they are easily seen, students might overestimate how much their peers are socializing because they don’t see them eating and studying alone,” said Chen.

“These feelings and perceptions are probably the strongest when people first enter a new social environment, but most of us probably experience them at some point in our lives.”