Talking Connections: High school versus college friendships, are they really that different?


The transition from high school friendships to college friendships can be a unique time for everyone, especially when new friendships form. 

Madison Mason

Editor’s note: This is part six in our weekly relationship series “Talking Connections.” Sensitive content may follow.

Friendships are often a huge part of people’s lives and can often be a big part of someone’s identity. However, identifying the idea of posing high school friendships against college friendships, people often get to see the similarities and differences between the two.

Susan Stewart, professor of sociology, said she had asked her intimate relationships class their thoughts on the concept of high school versus college friendships, and she said the answers made sense to her in a lot of ways.

Stewart said her class talked a lot about how in high school, those friendships develop due to where you’re from, these are the people you’ve known for a majority of your life. However, when someone goes to college they have the opportunity to reinvent themselves or evolve truly into who they want to be, and because they reinvent themselves, people develop friendships through that concept as well.

Stewart said during one’s adolescence, they are learning to form relationships and often one’s high school friends are doing the same thing at the same time, and that can form a bond. She also said during college people often rely on their friendships because their friends are going through similar hardships, and that can also impact their view on what friendship is more valuable.

Stewart said she doesn’t think the two friendships are different, rather that they are both important to people in different periods in their lives. She said everyone is different, and that people’s friendships from high school or in college differ for many.

She said the separation of these two friendships strain from the concept of a major change, like going to college. So when students are making this transition, they are adapting to a whole new environment and changing themselves somewhat too, which causes the separation between these two life chapters.

Even through all of this context, Stewart said she personally considers her better friends to be her ones from high school.

“My best friends are from high school, because we grew up together,” Stewart said. “My best friend and I have gone long periods of time without speaking, but when we get back to each other for lunch or coffee, it’s like nothing has changed.”

Trinity Dearborn, senior in women’s and gender studies, said people are often friends with the people in their high school because they are somewhat OK and close geographically, especially if someone goes to a small high school. When people go to college, there are usually a lot more people and that makes it easier to find good people they get along with.

Dearborn also said their personal experience with the division of these friendships had a lot to do with how many people they were friends with and what they did with their friends.

“I had one really good best friend in high school and they were basically my only close friend,” Dearborn said. “In college, I have a good close group of friends. I also go to parties with friends in college, which isn’t something I did in high school and I feel much more social in college now.”

Somerle Rhiner, sophomore in sociology and women’s and gender studies, said she considers the difference of the two friendships to be something different entirely. She said the major difference between high school and college friendships is the maturity and values someone has changes over time.

Rhiner said people separate the two friendships because when someone is in high school they are treated more like a child but when they move on to college they are expected to be an adult and make certain decisions, and that applies in friendships as well.

She said both friendships are very important in the idea that someone can learn a lot from and take away valuable aspects from both types.

And while these friendships differ for most people, ultimately, it can be hard to lose a friendship, regardless of it being a high school or college friendship. Stewart said it can be sad to lose friendships and the ways to cope are various.

“You can cope the same way you would if you were to break up with a significant other,” Stewart said. “You can do things you enjoy, try to forge new friendships and try to get out and do things with people, face to face.”

People cope differently with losing friendships. Rhiner said she personally ignored the situation at hand when she separated herself from her ex-best friend. She also said people can sometimes go in the opposite direction and seek friendships that can be bad for them, like she saw her ex-best friend from high school do, following the ending of their friendship.

Dearborn said losing friendships can be really difficult, but people should realize when it’s better for themselves to let others go, for both parties. Dearborn said they think knowing how to be happy alone and enjoy alone time is important, spending time with hobbies and working on self reflection can be a good coping mechanism.

As life goes on, it’s often hard to keep many friendships, some friendships may drift and making new friendships can be the tricky part.

Stewart said there is often a click factor when making new friendships. Through interaction and getting to know one another, friendships form due to the chemistry people have with each other, where people just seem to get one another.

Rhiner said friendships often start based off of similar interests like taking the same class, or being part of the same student organization can be something someone finds common ground over to start a friendship. She also said she thinks having the same ideals and beliefs are strong indicators of friendship.

“I think you make friends based off of what you have in common with another person,” Rhiner said. “I think commonalities bring people together more than differences, even though people say opposites attract.”

Dearborn said making new friends is a part of trial and error. They said sometimes it can be easier to point out people that are bad for you rather than people that are good for you. It can be a good start to figure out what people want from their friendship and what boundaries need to be put in place. The most important thing is knowing when to cut out toxic people and being able to do what’s best for yourself.

Dearborn said a lot of the time, people are too anxious to reach out to others first to start a friendship, but someone has to make first contact. Most people are open to new friendships and everyone should actively seek out others they want to be friends with. Dearborn said making new friends can be scary but it’s very rewarding.