As the university experience moves Online - How can we still make new friends?

March 14, 2023

by F. Z.

At the beginning of the year, I resolved to read more books and make a habit of asking people for their book recommendations.

Recently, a good friend of mine suggested a book titled How to Win Friends and Influence People. A self-help book which was written by Dale Carnegie in 1936. Over thirty million copies have been sold worldwide, making it one of the best-selling books of all time. After reading the book I thought -Why have I not learned about these old-aged conventional pearls of wisdom and principles much earlier in my life?

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People.

As university students, we spend most of our time signing up for courses, attending lectures, completing coursework, and sitting for exams. We enter university with the primary purposes of learning, getting good grades, and ultimately trying to secure a good job. Of course, we are going to learn a lot during our time at university; however, getting good grades is not enough if we do not master the fundamentals of human relationships.

“Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

I am fascinated by the fact that the book How to Win Friends and Influence People was published in 1936. Why did Dale Carnegie decide to write a book about developing human relationship skills during the Great Depression?  On a cold January night in 1935, two thousand five hundred professional men and women in New York City flocked into a hotel to listen to what Dale Carnegie was going to say about how to speak effectively and prepare for leadership. Were there deficiencies in the educational systems that pushed these professional adults to battle the cold January night to learn about the techniques?

It turned out that Dale Cargenie had done some homework on what adults want to study before he became one of the most sought-after motivational speakers during the widespread economic depression of the 20th century. A two-year survey by the University of Chicago, the American Association for Adult Education, and the United Y.M.C.A. Schools revealed that one of adults main interests is health. The survey also revealed that their second interest is in developing skills in human relationships – they want to learn the best technique for getting along with and influencing people. Individuals want suggestions they can use immediately in business, in social contacts, and the home. The survey’s results resonated with the ideas of John D. Rockefeller, an American business magnate, and philanthropist. He believed that: “the ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee, and I will pay more for that liability than for any other under the sun.”

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
Charles Darwin.

Fast forward 84 years, humanity around the world is now facing one of the worst public health crisis in a generation. COVID-19 has forced us to stay at home and have limited social contact. Busy and lively cities have been rapidly transformed into ghost towns. Parents are going through a crash course on how to become a teacher at home. Millions have lost their source of income. And worst of all, many have lost their loved ones.

Like the struggles faced by many people during the 1930s Great Depression, 2020 has pushed us to adapt to new ways of living and working, also known as the“new normal”. We have now become accustomed to having to wear masks, physically distancing ourselves even when we are spending time with our friends, and bringing hand sanitiser in our bags at all times as if it is as vital as our mobile phones. As a new academic year has already started around the U.K., it’s a great time to lift the curtain and put forward the question: how do university students build rapport and profitable relationships with their peers and educators when most of their courses are conducted online?

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.” Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

Dale Carnegie’s book made me realised how apt the old-aged conventional pearls of wisdom and principles are to our modern times of videoconferencing, webinars, e-learning, hybrid learning, and social media. Even though we have to adapt to the new ways of learning and socialising, for instance, watching recorded videos by professors and lecturers, and digitally signing up for activities and clubs that we are interested in (hello Digital Welcome Fair!), we can still make the most of our (new normal) time at university. We can always make new friends and influence people, whether it be online, hybrid, or in-person, by applying the principles suggested by Dale Carnegie. Here are some of the selected principles that I believe could help university students to think on their feet, express their ideas with more clarity, and getting along with people, both during their time at university and after graduation:

How to Make People Like You?

1. Become genuinely interested in other people and be a good listener.

As Dale Carnegie eloquently put it in his book, “If we want to make friends, let us put ourselves out to do things for other people – things that require time, energy, unselfishness, and thoughtfulness.”

In the current time of social-distancing, mask-wearing, and hospitality venue closure, it becomes trickier for us to organise social events or even study groups due to safety and health concerns.

We can still (virtually) radiate interest and enthusiasm to our classmates or many other people by sending messages and just asking how everyone is doing. Be genuinely interested to learn more about other people’s background and culture, for instance, asking about your international classmates’ home countries and how they have been doing in managing their studies in the current situation. Offer help to someone who needs it.

If you find people who share the same hobbies or interests as you, check out the weekly email from your universities Students’ Union or the university’s social media accounts. Sign up for various events or activities and invite your friends to join you. This will keep you sane as well as entertained during this challenging time (even though it is online!). Those events will not hurt your pocket, too, as most of them are free.

2. Smile, and remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

How to effectively do this while we are communicating virtually with other people?

Emotions! Most of us would agree that the essential elements of human communication, such as gestures, body language, and many other non-verbal communications, are hard to convey via online platforms.

However, we are now living in a world where technology plays an essential part in our lives, whether it be academically or personally. Most university students are equipped with gadgets such as laptops, mobile phones, and tablets when they enter the new academic year. So why don’t we employ techniques and principles such as smiling and remembering people’s name to make new friends in the virtual world?

Researchers found that emotions, when used in conjunction with a written message, can help to increase the “intensity” of its intended meaning (Derks et al. 2007). And with technology, it is much easier to remember to address people by their name as most of the time it appears on the screen, whether via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, WhatsApp, etc.

3. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests and sincerely make the other person feel important.

Besides knowing how to make new friends, as university students, we also need to build a good relationship with people who teach us – our professors, lecturers, and tutors.

At many points in our academic life, we will be given coursework and assignments to be completed by ourselves or in groups. Our lecturers will also challenge us with many questions related to our courses.

When I first arrived in the U.K. to do my master's degree back in 2008, I felt anxious to approach my lecturers and my dissertation supervisor – I lacked the confidence and courage to ask questions! Fear not! Lecturers, professors, and tutors are humans too!

Dale Carnegie highlighted that "almost all the people you meet feel superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realise in some subtle way that you recognise their importance and recognise it sincerely.”

One of the best ways to approach our educators is to find out his or her office hours. Secondly, find out their research interests or read some of their publications to understand their work further. And thirdly, use little phrases such as “I’m sorry to trouble you”; “Would you be so kind as to ?”; “Won’t you please?”; “Would you mind”; “Thank you”; or any other polite gestures. Show little courtesies like these, and it will be no trouble at all for your educators to help you with any questions.

To read more about Dale Carnegie's theories see our next article by Fizah Zainudin - How  can we influence people during online learning and conversations?


Carnegie, D (1936). How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York, NY: Pocket Books. 1-269.

Derks, D., Bos, A.E.R. and Grumbkow, J.V. (2007). Emoticons and social interaction on the Internet: the importance of social context. Computers in Human Behaviour. 23 (2007), 842-849.

by F. Z.