Navigating college friendships: cliques, pressure and insecurity

Nuhamin Wube

College is a lot like the wilderness: survival skills are necessary. In order for students to succeed in college they need to manage their time, communicate and multitask. The most important factor, however, is adequate social support.

In college, having a support system is necessary to overcoming challenges. From a trusted loved one or group, it reduces the psychological and physiological effects of stress and may even boost immune function.

Since students are far from family and relatives, though, their main source of this is on-campus friendships. Friends may provide emotional and physical support in a variety of ways.

Making friends is a slow process for most people. It can be difficult to figure out where to make friends and how to mingle more, especially as a first-year or if you are not extroverted.

Luckily, on-campus groups provide opportunities for students to form friendships. Joining Greek life, study groups, sports or clubs can be one good way to start. Junior Gareth Kent, an english education major who is actively involved in campus life, has made the majority of his friends through joining a fraternity, for which he is very grateful.

“The real art of campus is friends,” Kent said.

Friendships are not just an artistic endeavor, but the act of creating friendships in college is also something great. It all starts with the first meeting when both parties recognize that something more can emerge from that encounter. Then what follows is electricity—a good connection to build that friendship, and then the commitment to continue that connection. 

Having good friends helps students want to quickly return to college after a break. “They are like my family,” Kent said. “They are a big part of why I want to come back to school, a big part of why I don’t want to leave and a big part of why I love Augustana.”

In terms of on-campus friendships, different people have different points of view, expectations and experiences. There are fortunate and unfortunate experiences, as with any other part of life.

Some people are lucky to arrive at college with some high school buddies, while others are fortunate enough to quickly connect with their roommates and form a positive relationship. Others participate in groups where they may instantly meet new people and build a bond with their teammates.

“Large friend groups can be alienating for some people,” junior Grace Loverde said. Loverde participates in plenty of on-campus activities but still questioned the stereotypical college friend group. 

Nobody wants to be left out. It feels good to participate in something, no matter how serious or insignificant it is. Feeling like you’re a part of something can provide some affirmation. 

First-year students, more than any other group of college students, face pressure to establish a large number of friends immediately. They enter college with expectations shaped by friends, family and media about how college is a great opportunity to make friends easily.

These expectations may drive individuals to form connections at a fast pace or to feel disappointed when making friends isn’t as simple or as fantastic as they were assured it would be.

Disappointment may cause stress in student lives and have a bad impact on their self-esteem and college experience. Because students aren’t part of large friend groups and may not feel like they fit on campus, they may feel lonely.

Stress has a significant impact on the life of a college student, and it can be caused by a variety of reasons. For instance, a lack of social support and a sense of loneliness are two interrelated issues that might cause stress out a student.

However, an individual can be alone without wanting any company while another person can be surrounded by others and still feel lonely. 

It is well known that the larger your social circle, the more support you have and the more individuals on whom you can rely. However, there are certain downsides to having plenty of friends.

You may not have enough time for yourself, and it may be difficult to find balance; balancing homework and balancing social life might be difficult.

Fear of abandonment may also cause stress in students. “Constantly keeping up with a large circle might feel impossible at times,” Mike Pettis said, associate director of admissions for strategic initiatives and data analysis.

Pettis outlined the thought process for students feeling the effects of imposter syndrome. “People think, ‘they’re going to see me for what I really am and I’m not good enough or cool enough. Not witty enough or funny enough or pretty enough or whatever it is,’” he said. “We all suffer from that.”

Achieving perfection—perfect behavior, being a perfect friend, perfect responses and perfect relationships—is not a realistic expectation. 

“People are too worried about themselves to be worried about you,” Pettis said.