Taking a structured approach to making friends

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

Making new friends and feeling a part of your university community can help you to have a good university experience. For many students, meeting new friends is a big focus at the start of university.

It's okay if you don't make friends straight away

If you are lucky, you might find great friends sitting next to you in class, in your flat or on the bus going into university. But we can’t assume or expect this to be the case and most students will need to put in a little more effort.

Remember, every new student is having the same experience and this gives you a lot to work with. Most students will be delighted to have someone new talk to them and to have the chance to go to a new social event. There will be someone in your student community who will make a great friend for you. By planning, you’ll give yourself the opportunity of finding them, rather than leaving it to chance.

Taking a planned and structured approach can help you to feel in control of the process of meeting new people – and by reaching out to others you will also help them, by giving them more opportunities to find friends.

Where might you meet people anyway?

First, you may want to think about those places you are going to be anyway – class, common areas, student accommodation. Think about the opportunities this may bring.

When we move into a new environment, like university, school or workplace, a lot of our initial socialising tends to happen at times between events, like before or after a meeting or class. You can use these opportunities to get to know the people better – by suggesting you and your classmates grab a coffee after class or to set up study groups.

But of course, these opportunities don’t always turn into more social contact, unless someone makes that happen. One of the most helpful things to plan for is how you might take initial conversations and build on them. For example, if you have a conversation in class as part of an exercise, could you use this to suggest meeting up outside class? As you leave class, could you ask if anyone else wants to have a drink or have lunch together?

What other opportunities are there to make friends?

But as we discussed above, it is wise not to rely on just those spaces. Most universities will provide a whole range of social opportunities – especially at the start of the year, that you can make part of your plan. Visit your university and students’ union websites, Guild or Association and look for all of the opportunities that you have open to you. These might include –

  • Joining societies and clubs
  • Different departments may run events for meeting new people, including the students’ union, Chaplaincy, halls and your Faculty, College or Department
  • Volunteering opportunities
  • Online forums run by the union or your course
  • Some universities have created online social opportunities for students to engage with before the start of the academic year.

Read more on building a network at university.

Pushing yourself to attend an event, talk to someone new in class, or reach out to a friend online can feel like a huge effort when you’re feeling low, anxious or stressed. But pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is essential to build and maintain strong friendships.

How to make friends at university when you struggle with mental health difficulties - Hester

Put your plan into action

Take your time in implementing your ideas. You don’t have to do everything at once. Pick the first few things to try and then build from there. Try to remember that this is a process. If you don’t meet anyone you like in the first few tries, that doesn’t mean you won’t make friends. It just means you haven’t found them yet. Keep building and acting on your plan and use the support in your university to help you get there.

Page last reviewed: September 2022