Why your social life might change, as you progress into the next academic year

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

When they return for a new academic year, many students are surprised that their social life isn’t quite the same. Increases in academic demands, changes in friendship groups and people living in different accommodation can change the way socialising happens. Understanding this and taking some simple steps, can help ensure that you still get the social contact and fun that you need for a balanced lifestyle.

People are generally creatures of habit and pattern. When patterns in our lives change, we can feel unsettled. This is true of changes in the patterns of our social lives – if you are used to going out, on particular nights of the week, with one group of friends, you may feel thrown if people stop going out on those nights. It is easier to absorb these changes if you know that they are really common when you and your friends move into a new academic year.

Students often return to university expecting to pick up the same routines that they had when they were in the previous year. But there are a number of reasons why these routines may change as you progress through university.

1) Increasing academic demands

Each year at university has a different set of academic demands. You and your friends may have more assessed work, you may be required to learn at great depth, and/or the subject may become more complex, requiring more time to build knowledge and understanding. For some students, each year may also count more towards their overall degree classification, which may mean they want to put in more work to improve their performance.

This means both you and your friends may simply have less time and energy to socialise as you did in previous years.

This doesn’t mean you have to be less close or have no fun. It can help if you and your friends

  • Communicate and plan your social lives a little bit more. Work out when you and your friends will be most focused on academic work and see if you can protect some time to have fun together

  • Consider alternative ways to socialise – you may want to party and go clubbing less, but spending time together in other ways may be as fun and fulfilling, while still leaving you the energy and focus to study

  • Discuss ways that you can support each other to manage your academic demands and still maintain a healthy balance. Supporting each other may lead to your friendships deepening and becoming more valuable.

It’s crucial to maintain a reliable circle that supports you as much as you support them. This network could be anyone from your roommates or housemates to a particular community group. You don’t need to have a ton of extra time to connect with others. It’s worth sparing a few hours every week to build relationships that effectively boost your personal and professional life. These bonds are crucial for your mental health, too.

2. Changes in friendship groups

Friendship groups at university tend to be fluid. The nature of learning at university often means that people grow, develop and change during their course of study. This sometimes means friendships drift apart as people develop new interests or ways of being. The same thing may well be happening to you, without you necessarily being aware of it.

You can manage these changes by:

  • Seeing the positives this brings. The fact that social groups remain fluid, means they are ongoing social opportunities for you. You can keep looking for new friends and groups to expand your social circle taking a structured approach.

  • Valuing those friendships that are still working and devoting more time to these relationships.

  • If you feel you have no friends, you may find our articles on finding friendships helpful or you may benefit from accessing support at your university.

University support icon

Find support services provided by your place of study.

3. Changes in living accommodation

Particularly in first year, living in halls or college can make socialising easy. You may have had many friends around you, easy to reach and spend time with. Once you and your friends move out of halls, you may be living significantly further away from each other, meaning that it takes more effort to get together.

You may want to consider if you can

  • Use this as an opportunity to get to know the area more, change your environment regularly and slot some exercise into your day, travelling from your accommodation to your friends

  • Spend time with your friends planning when you will spend time together and where. Planning will make it more likely that you will get to see each other and leave it less to chance.

There is one final way in which your social life might be disrupted. Sometimes, particularly towards assessment periods of the final year, students cut out socialising completely, so they can concentrate more on academic work.

Unfortunately, this often results in increasing tiredness, stress and poorer academic performance overall. Our brains and bodies need balance to perform well, even in exam time. Spending time with friends can help you to let go of stress, relax and improve your sleep. Remembering this and sharing this knowledge with your friends may help all of you.

Changes to social patterns often happen when students move into the next year of study. But with small steps and communication you can still have a good year.