I’ve seen a lot of articles discussing sociologist Janice McCabe’s novel Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success. McCabe divides people into three types of networks, so I decided to chart my own network. This is what I learned about my friendship network and how I structure my relationships.
McCabe asked 67 students at a midwest university to name their friends, and then connected them to create networks for every individual.
She found that there were three basic types of networks.
Tight-knitters–Individuals with one cohesive friendships. She found that this was most common with African-American and Latino students. She also found that it was very difficult for these students to exit these networks, so much so that after college these individuals continued to be a part of the same network.
Compartmentalizers- individuals with small friendship clusters, with few connections between clusters. She found this was primarily used by upper and middle-class women. One of these clusters tends to be academic, which can provide support that can increase academic success. After college, these students did not keep the same group, but did continue to adhere to the cluster structure.
Samplers– Individuals with a disconnected collection of friends. She found that these individuals had limited social and academic support, but had much more academic success without the same degree of distraction that the other network structures had. After college, they became tight-knitters with much more social support.
McCabe found that the more connections in a student’s friend network, the more academic support and success the student had. My friendship network has changed a lot this year, so I had to try to plot out my own network.
So What Does Mine Look Like
To create my network structure, I went through my calendar and included every friend that I had scheduled time with in the last two months. The last two months, I have been at school in Chicago so my friends from home are not included unless I spoke to them over Skype or on the phone.
I then tried to connect the people who I knew were friends. I’m sure this is not exhaustive. I color-coded the connections by the primary activity with which I can connect them. For example, the burgundy color represents those that are connected by my sorority.
I learned that in the last two months I have seen 28 individuals, which is on the high side for a compartmentalizer-like structure.
Some of these individuals I see in groups, but most of them I schedule time (1.5-2 Hours) with individually. In looking at this, it seems like a lot of coffee, breakfast, and lunch dates. This is more typical of McCabe’s sampler structure.
How My Friendships Have Changed In College
In high school, I had classes with most of my friends. There was also ample opportunity in class to make friends. Almost all of my friends were in the same lunch period as well. It was easy to maintain these relationships.
In college, I found with mostly lecture classes, I don’t get to know the people in my classes. This is especially true since every three months, we get a whole new set of classes.
I tend to make at least one friend in each class, so to maintain these friendships I work to make time for them in the quarters after. This also provides an infrastructure for future academic support since many of them have the same academic interests as I do.
It is important to note that I didn’t join Greek Life until this year, and my sorority makes up a little more than a third of my friendships, and the bulk of the connections between my friends. I hadn’t realized the extent of the influence rushing has had on my relationships.
This network also isn’t reflective of the frequency with which I interact with each individual. For example, I see Samira multiple times every week, and I only saw Isaac T. once this quarter, but they are weighted equally. This is reflective of the overlap (or lack thereof) in our academic interests.
Making Time to Maintain Friendships
Making time for each friend individually has made it so that we are cultivating close relationships, even if we don’t see each other frequently. I think this is what keeps the number of friendships so manageable.
Purposefully scheduling time with each friend is difficult to keep track of. For those that I see in classes (Danna, Juliette, Samira, Kathi, etc.), it is easier to structure social time around our assignments. Otherwise, I have a group of people I try to see individually every couple of weeks. I actually put each name in my calendar two weeks from when we see each other as a reminder to make plans. Since every week I see one or two friends I haven’t seen in a while, it is easier to work around.
The group connected by red dotted lines I met at a summer camp almost three years ago. We make time to Skype and call each other about once a month. We rely heavily on social media to stay connected. Although we don’t see each other often, these are some of the most meaningful friendships I have.
I was astounded to see how many people I have made time for over the last couple months, and I feel incredibly lucky to have found so many people who I connect with. However, the ease with which I could construct this network speaks to the amount of effort I put into it regularly.
I hadn’t considered the effect that this network has on my academics. McCabe makes the point that the balance between social and academic support is crucial to the success of students. Of my 28 friendships, 7 (25%) of them are primarily academic, but I have the most frequent contact with these 7 people.
If you decide to map out your own friendships, I’d love to see them!