Back after a year away and my friends have already graduated

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

If you’ve been away for a year on placement, year abroad or authorised leave due to illness or other circumstance, one of the key challenges, when you return, can be that many of your friends may have completed their degree and graduated while you’ve been away. While this will give you a very different university experience, it can be an experience that is enjoyable and fulfilling.

The friends we have at university can define a large part of our experience. So it isn’t surprising that it can feel strange to be back at university, with so many of those friends no longer around. You may also find that you simply miss some of your friends and that being in the places and environments you used to share makes this feeling stronger.

While this is a common experience for those who have been away for an academic year, it doesn’t mean it will shape your entire experience now. You can take control of your social network to ensure that your time is still fun, fulfilling and enjoyable.

Remember, you have a range of skills and experiences to call on – from completing the transition into university in first year and possibly from time on a placement or year abroad.

If you take a structured approach to making friends and building your social life now, you have the opportunity to widen your social circle, strengthen existing relationships and find new friends. The key is to give yourself as many opportunities as possible to find a social circle that works for you.

Here are some things you may want to consider;

Some of your old friends may still be around

While some of your friends may have graduated, they may still live in the local area and are happy to meet up regularly. While this means your relationship may work differently and you may have to plan more, the chance is still there for you to reconnect and rekindle your friendship.

Find friends who share your experiences

There will be other students around who had similar experiences to you in the last year. Some of them may be people you already know. Others you may be able to find through Students Union or Guild online forums or societies.

Talk to staff in your SU or Guild and post a question on an online forum. Some universities also offer welcome back events and opportunities to re orientate to university – this can provide you with a great social opportunity.

Look within your course

Yes, many of the people on your course were in a different year to you before – but that doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t be a good friend to you.

Relationships at university are often fluid, social groups change and people are usually willing to make new friends. Those in your classroom now have chosen to study the same subject, so you will probably have some things in common.

Try to introduce yourself to others in your class – your tutor may be able to help you find ways to connect with other students on your programme.

Clubs and societies

SU or Guild clubs and societies aren’t just for first years. Your experiences while away from university may have given you new interests, you may want to explore something new or maybe there’s a club you always thought about joining but never did.

Use support

If you are finding things difficult on your return, you may find that accessing some support can help.

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Find support services provided by your place of study