Meeting people at university

The thought of meeting new people and making friends during the first term (and beyond) may feel daunting. Especially as other people make it seem so easy. However, although it may not seem like it, most students will be nervous when coming to university so you are not alone. This article will help you consider ways that could help you meet others at university.


Making friends can be tricky for anyone and at any time, but the first term at university is a big period of change and adaptation and the social and routine-based aspects of autism can make things a little bit harder. Having a think about some of the challenges you feel you might face and think about how you may feel more comfortable getting to know others. For example, would you feel more confident making friends if you joined a society (where you might have shared interests) or could you set a task of talking to one new person per day (for example, in the dining hall or in a queue).

How could this affect me?

“It was refreshing to meet other people with autism, because as diverse of a condition it is, there were many with whom I could relate with, and it certainly put me at ease before freshers  (week) properly began.”

Current undergraduate student talking about the ASC Induction Program

Students in an Autism&Uni survey advised that talking to friends really helped them when they were stressed, a lot of people also found that socialising was one of their biggest worries at uni and their parents and teachers agreed. It’s never going to be easy – there’s no step-by-step foolproof guide to making people like you – but we’ve got some practical tips to share.

It can be tempting to avoid doing anything outside the course, and that’s the route some autistic students take, but getting on with people (even if they aren’t your best friends) and taking part in activities outside your degree will help make university into a positive experience. There are also benefits for your grades – students who discuss their modules with others tend to get better marks. Not because they’re copying each other! But two (or more) heads are better than one at solving problems and finding new ways of understanding topics.

What to do next?

Choose one or more of the practical tips and talk to someone new

Practical tips

Autism&Uni asked students how they made friends at university:

  • “Through accommodation, then friends of friends”
  • “Work (worked in the library), friends of friends (few people from school went to same uni), labs”
  • “I went to the creative writing society & met some creative writing nerds”
  • “Being brave and talking to people in the endless queues. How I met my closest friend of now nearly 18 years”
  • “Drinking” (this was a popular answer – interest in and tolerance for alcohol may vary…)
  • “Most successfully, eventually finding group of ‘like-minded people’ (enviro activist group) – not that I liked all of them, but found people I clicked with in that group and it led to loads of other connections”
  • “I still know people from breakfast on day 1, also still very close with friends from re-enactment group i joined in Orientation week”
  • “I joined clubs, then got invited to hang out because I was such an interesting weirdo (that’s what I was told anyway)”
  • “Went to Freshers Fair and joined about a million groups. Then realised it wasn’t feasible and stuck with rugby – mates for life!”
  • “Was in Halls of Residence so was forced to hang out with strangers in shared areas. TBH, didn’t ever really make real friends” (it’s OK not to make real friends if you have friends outside of uni, but as long as you can get on with people and find people to do things with, it will be a less lonely experience)
  • “After initial shallow talk-to-everyone-in-Freshers-week, neighbours in hall and shared interests (joined games, film clubs). Further friends-of-friends became my friends too. Longest lasting (30 years now) uni friendships came from shared interests/hobbies”
  • “Lucked out with a few nice people in halls (well, 3) who introduced me to other nice people”
  • “Lived in halls; approached nerdy-looking coursemates; met people from internet forums”
  • “Moved to halls of residence, kept door open, talked to people, got scared of all the middle class folk, found second year students. I took effort and will to do all that – was very shy and not very confident. In second year I stayed in halls and made friends more easily – then came out and made much larger new set by hanging round cafe”
  • “Try leaving your door open if you live in halls and chat to people in the communal areas”
  • “Join groups, societies and clubs, either at university or in the areas where you live”

Key themes that came put of the research included:

  • Have items to hand – bring a pen, make a cake, put the kettle on etc. All of these things can help you get to know people
  • Introduce the people you meet to each other, and they will do the same with their new friends
  • Joining clubs and societies where you can meet like minded people

Questions to think about

  1. Does your university or town have a club, group or society related to your interests? (If not, your student union or adviser may be able to help you to start one)
  2. If living in halls, can you leave your door open when you’re in so people can see you’re happy to talk to them?
  3. What treats could you share to start a conversation with your coursemates or people in your accommodation?

Additional information and links

NAS – Making Friends

About the author

Written by Rebecca Horsfall, Disability Support, of Durham University. Research/quote content kindly provided by Autism&Uni/Leeds Beckett University