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Friends, Frenemies and Other Challenges of Friendships at University

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

By E.H.


For students, socialising is not only a healthy way to nurture personal relationships and release stress but also a fundamental aspect of the university experience. However, balancing work and fun is not an easy goal to achieve. Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, navigating social life at university can be challenging, a distraction from your studies, and a source of stress.

So how can you live your best university life without sacrificing your wellbeing and academic performance?

This week I will dive into some of the challenges associated with a social life at university, explore some common negative habits, and reflect on strategies to counteract them.

1. Learn to be self-aware

Self-awareness is a process, it requires constant practice and a lot of patience, but it yields rewarding results. Ask yourself when you make decisions: are you being true to yourself? Or are you trying to be somebody else to please your friends? Knowing your strengths and flaws will allow you to identify potentially harmful behavioural patterns and make better choices for yourself.


2. Choose your friends well

It is easy to find yourself ‘tolerating’ people in your immediate proximity, such as your housemates and course mates, even when they are not your cup of tea.

But remember, the best thing about friendships is that you get to choose who your friends are!

So, if they are not the right fit for you, try exploring societies, sports or any other social activity where you might meet people with the same interests as you. Finding your tribe will make your life rich and more fulfilling and will allow you to develop the support system you need to navigate the successes and hardships of university. Remember, one great friend is better than a hundred lousy ones.


3. Don’t cave into peer pressure

Perhaps the most common problem associated with a social life of university students is peer pressure. Particularly for freshers, who are more exposed to the expectations of meeting new people, joining societies and having fun, peer pressure can be overwhelming.

Student newspapers in Oxford, Bristol and Warwick, to mention a few, address the topic in detail, underscoring how this phenomenon often leads to excessive partying and drinking. All your friends are going out and you don’t want to feel excluded. That’s understandable.

But listen to your guts and ask yourself if that is what you really want.

Do you feel like going out at all?

And if so, do you feel like drinking?

Are you sure you want a horrible hangover in the morning, when you need to finish that essay?

Whatever the answer, make sure that it is your own decision, and not the pressure of fitting in which is influencing your judgement. As to your peers, if they cast you off for wanting to have a solo night in, then they were never real friends to begin with!

However, peer pressure can also arise in the context of academic performance. You might feel like you have not read, written, or understood as much as your course mates, and that can cause additional unnecessary stress and anxiety. Comparing yourself and your work to your peers is fine, but don’t let your competitive friends freak you out! Focus on yourself and always do your best, that is all that is required from you.


4. Find your work-life balance

Your mental health and overall wellbeing depend on your ability to find harmony between the different aspects of your life: too much work can cause stress and anxiety, too little and your academic performance will suffer as a result. What can you do then to cultivate a healthy lifestyle?

  1. Set goals for yourself: Organise your workload productively, leaving out time to spend with your friends. How many papers do you have to read? How many essays to write? Make a to-do list and stick to it, but make sure you find time to unwind and recharge your batteries in the company of your pals.

  2. Make the most of your time: Once you have allocated time for work, make it count! Avoid any distraction, such as phones and social media, and remain focused on the task at hand. Many of us are procrastinators and removing diversions can act as a powerful incentive to get the job done quickly. However, when you are with your friends, forget about papers and essays! Try to live in the moment and enjoy some time off.

  3. Don’t find excuses: If the task(s) you set out to accomplish is/are not completed, consider taking a rain check on that night out. Postponing work can become a slippery slope, and the party can always wait. However, do not use work as an excuse to avoid social interactions. Try to get outside your comfort zone and you might find lots of new friends as a result. So once your tasks are completed, leave your books behind and have some fun!


E. H. was a PhD student in Classical Languages and Literature at the University of Oxford. She received an MA from the University of Florence and her research interests revolve around issues of representation in Latin poetry.

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