Friendships with Benefits

by Marie-Capucine Pineau-Valencienne | 1/4/17 1:37am

“No, you can’t go out.”

“Focus on school.”

“Keep your priorities straight.”

Many college students can painfully remember hearing their parents parrot these statements back to them throughout high school. This kind of badgering from our parents is often seen as an unjust and evil attempt to get us to focus less on our friends and more on our schoolwork, but what if going to that Thursday night movie, weekly post rehearsal hang-out or even just loitering around the nearest Starbucks with your friends after school, was actually your golden ticket to the college of your choice?

In college, parents are no longer around to tell us what we can and cannot do, and in an environment as small and close-knit as Dartmouth, our friends play a pivotal role in shaping our experience as college students. We live with them, study with them, eat with them and party with them — but is the hyper social nature of college a benefit to our education? It turns out, it is. (Take that Mom and Dad!)

We asked sociology professor Dr. Janice McCabe if she thought friendships were academically beneficial.

“Definitely… friendships — and cultivating and maintaining those friendships — are more important than we often give them credit for,” she said.

As a sociologist, and “friendship connoisseur,” McCabe studies the importance and effects of friendships on college students. McCabe has written a book, “Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success,” conducted research on various college campuses and published many articles which explore college friendships and how they correlate to academic success.

In her article “Friends With Academic Benefits,” McCabe explains how she used network analysis to study college students’ different “friendship networks” and classified them into three distinctive types: tight-knitters, compartmentalizers and samplers.

Through her research, she found healthy friendships in college were strongly linked to academic success. If actively participating in one’s social life can be helpful to a student achieving academic success, why were we told to do less so in high school? And what makes college different? McCabe attributes the uniquely social nature of college as one of the reasons why students’ friends and social circle can have a heavy impact on the outcome of their collegiate career, explaining that, “college is such a peer-centered environment” and “friends are around all the time.”

Although McCabe asserts that having a healthy social life is beneficial, she found that it may not be the case for students in all types of collegiate environments. As part of her research, she interviewed various students from a large university she calls “MU” about how their friends were involved in their academics.

“Even when they told me they kept them separate, there were so many ways their friends became involved in their academic life for the good and for the bad,” she said.

For students who go to a small college, smack dab in the middle of a remote landscape, their school easily becomes all encompassing, housing their classes, their activities and their friends. Although isolated, one major benefit of attending a rigorous college located in a rural area, such as Dartmouth, is the academically conscientious environment that the pairing fosters. McCabe suggested this was an advantage not all college students had.

“There are definitely ways that Dartmouth is different,” she said. “I think that friends are more integrated in academics here for the average student than they were at what I call ‘MU’ that I feature in my book.”

McCabe explained that a few students [at MU] had an academic group of friends, but overall, it was much easier to not have that academic group.

“Whereas [at Dartmouth], it seems that students on the whole are more academically engaged with their friends,” she said.

So next time your parents give you grief when you tell them you went out last night, and the night before, are on your way to your weekly dinner with friends or are not skipping Wednesday meetings even though it’s midterms week, you can appease their worries about your seemingly overactive social life by telling them that it was prescribed by a doctor — Dr. Janice McCabe.