The Lonely Reality of University

“I felt more loneliness in uni than in the pandemic”.

Abi Hymas
5th March 2024
Image credit: @newcastlesu on Instagram
With nearly half of young adults going to university in the UK, many expect the experience to be ‘the best time of their lives’. But for many the harsh reality is that it can be extremely lonely.  

From the outside looking in, student life seems like an amazing combination of parties, people and academia. There are fantastic social opportunities available for students, however, many experience loneliness and isolation.

It’s an eye-opening shock to the system trying to adjust to a new lifestyle and settle into a new place in September. It’s not uncommon to feel a sense of uncertainty or loneliness. From flatmates, pressure to go out, social media, on top of juggling your degree and well-being, uni can be a very daunting experience.

What you’ve got to remember, is that everyone’s in the same boat. 

First year law student, Lauren Clegg goes home whenever she can, and describes her struggles with loneliness and mental health since starting in September. “You feel very isolated and very lonely. You’re by yourself”, she said. 

Maybe you love your flat mates and watch telly together, maybe you argue over who stole the last egg, or maybe you don’t speak at all. It really is the luck of the draw to who you get allocated to live with and often it is these people who determine the rest of first year.

Stage 2 business student, Saoirse Murphy says “If you had an outside look in, you’re there in your block of hundreds of people sitting in their rooms on their phones by themselves feeling lonely. Even though that’s the case, you still feel trapped behind your door”.  

Now graduated, Tilda Billsberry-Grass arrived at Newcastle University in September of 2020, during Covid-19. The film and media student struggled with socialising as she said, “it was literally against the law to make friends”. 

Whilst Tilda fortunately got on with her flatmates, she said that “the people that end up in your flat will dictate the rest of your uni experience”. 

Tilda said that her expectations were not matched, and that largely this was due to social media creating an extreme expectation and romanticisation version of reality. It is constant in uni life and often shows only the highlights and as a result, hopes aren't always met.

As much as I hate to admit, I am one of the majority whose been swept up in the pressure to look good online.  

Take BeReal, for example, an app created in order to make our online lives more genuine. Each day you are given a 2-minute time slot at random to take a picture of whatever you’re doing at that exact moment. But how often have you seen your friends posing for their BeReal of their seemingly ‘amazing’ night out, hours after the 2-minute time slot? 

Image credit: Josh-Withers_Unsplash

Even on an app meant to address these issues, we still fall into the trap of creating unrealistic expectations. As a generation, we understand that pictures and videos online are clearly staged, edited and posed, but it's tough to avoid that initial feeling of being isolated and lonely. 

FOMO (aka fear of missing out), has perpetrated social media. Tilda said that it made her first-year experience worse. “I had FOMO of the student experience that I didn't think I was getting. I had FOMO of a friendship group that I didn’t even know”, she added. 

So how can you feel less lonely at uni? Advice for students feeling isolated is to put yourself out there. University is home to fantastic social opportunities from Llama’s to Fellwalking, there are a multitude of societies to choose from at Newcastle so don't be daunted by joining in late.  

Image credit: Chris23_Unsplash

It is also important to accept that being alone is a normal part of life. It’s impossible to spend every waking hour socialising. Look around and you’ll notice just how many students are going about their day on their own. Learn to love your own company and spend some time practicing self care or even pick up a new hobby.

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