Network Your Way To University Success (And Actually Make Friends)

By: Oladapo Salvador (Contributor)

University life is a whirlwind of exhilaration and those occasional “what did I get myself into?” moments. Whether you’re a fresher just finding your footing or a seasoned staylite navigating the familiar campus with confidence, one thing will always shape your experience: the people. Your network is more than a collection of faces; it’s your support system, your inspiration hub, and the launch pad for those opportunities that could change the course of your life. Building relationships isn’t just about knowing who is the best student (though that’s important too). It’s about mastering the art of genuine connection.

This is where Dale Carnegie’s wisdom in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” steps in. This classic guide transcends its slightly vintage title with timeless advice on how to engage with the world around you—a skill that will pay dividends long after those final exams are over.

Becoming Genuinely Likable (Because There’s So Much More Than ‘What’s Your Department?’)

Carnegie prioritized genuine interest, and this is never more important than in the first rush of introductions at university. Freshers, we know those meet-and-greets can get repetitive. Fight the urge to go on autopilot with those standard icebreaker questions. Instead, turn into a keen observer. The sticker plastered on their laptop, the title of the novel they are reading, the illumination of their eyes as they notice things —these are the hooks that ignite deeper conversations and lead to finding your people. Staylites, you’ve got the insider knowledge, but don’t assume familiarity means you know everything about your peers. Take your interactions to the next level—maybe you spotted a quiet but sharp classmate who suddenly comes alive discussing theoretical physics during a lecture. Seek them out afterwards, compliment their insight, and ask how they first got fascinated by the topic. Digging deeper reveals those hidden passions that could spark unexpected collaborations or even reignite an old interest of yours.

Actively listening takes your likeability factor to another level entirely. It’s about far more than just nodding and waiting for your turn to speak. Pay attention to your peers. Notice not just what they say, but how they say it—their body language, the ideas they get passionate about, the moments when their voice softens with vulnerability. These unspoken cues reveal places where they shine, or where perhaps they could use a helping hand or a listening ear. That might mean offering to brainstorm project ideas with them, or just sitting silently while they vent about a bad day—sometimes, your quiet presence is the most meaningful support. While juggling deadlines and commitments, it’s easy to hear chatter around you as just noise. But remember: a struggling colleague might be grappling with something you used to find challenging, and your perspective could be immensely valuable. Their fresh take on problems might inspire a new approach in your own work. Show that you’re invested in their journey, and you earn respect as someone far more approachable than the most textbook-perfect CGPA could ever achieve.

Winning Others to Your Side (Navigating Conflict is Part of Adulting 101)

Let’s be honest, university throws together a wild mix of personalities and expectations. Carnegie knew that the way you handle those inevitable clashes reveals far more about you than your course grades. Imagine those dreaded group projects—tensions can run high from the first chaotic brainstorming session. Before you mentally write anyone off as “too quiet” or “too opinionated,” remember that effective teams capitalize on diverse strengths. Is there someone brimming with creative ideas that seem totally off the wall? Instead of dismissing them, find a way to anchor their energy to a specific task. Maybe they’re amazing at visually representing concepts, or their outside-the-box thinking could be just the twist that wins over the professor. You’ve probably witnessed the spectrum of work styles, from the notorious procrastinator to the one who wants to micromanage every tiny detail. This is where your leadership potential shines. Instead of fueling the drama, step back and become a translator. Can you channel the procrastinator towards tasks with immediate deadlines to harness their last-minute bursts of energy? Can you propose a clearly defined division of roles to ease the micromanager’s anxiety? This isn’t about being a pushover; it’s about demonstrating the adaptability that makes you an indispensable addition to any future workplace.

Even those social clashes outside the classroom are valuable training grounds. University is meant to expose you to a wider range of ideas and experiences than you may have encountered before. Whether it’s a full-blown political debate or a disagreement about how best to tackle a shared assignment, resist the urge to steamroll anyone who doesn’t share your perspective. Practice Carnegie’s wisdom: strive to understand, not just to be right. Probe deeper with questions that show genuine curiosity—what experiences have shaped their seemingly rigid stance? What might they know that you don’t? Showing respect for their position doesn’t mean sacrificing your own values, but it opens doors for a greater understanding that contributes to a more nuanced worldview on both sides.

Influencing with Integrity (Because Your Reputation Precedes You)

Carnegie firmly believed in leading with kindness. The constant pressure of deadlines, looming exams, and the inevitable bouts of self-comparison can weigh heavily during your university years. That’s why your willingness to celebrate and uplift others becomes a force multiplier. Notice those lifesavers who offered clarity amidst the chaos: the peer who shared their organized lecture notes, the classmate who patiently explained a concept until that “aha!” moment finally clicked. Expressing genuine gratitude not only makes them feel appreciated but creates a ripple effect—they’ll be more likely to extend the same kindness to others. Staylites, now is the time to transform acts of support into meaningful mentorship. Remember that inspiring lecturer who reignited your love of learning or the lab assistant who saw your potential and encouraged you to take on a challenging research project? Taking the time to craft a heartfelt thank-you note, not just for the grade but for the impact they’ve had on you, makes you unforgettable. These connections can become the foundation for future research collaborations, powerful recommendation letters, or simply an open door when you’re feeling lost and need guidance.

True influence also means mastering constructive criticism. You’ll inevitably face situations where you need to give feedback, whether to a roommate about their less-than-stellar hygiene habits or to a fellow project member who isn’t contributing fairly to the workload. Focus on offering solutions, not just complaints. Does your roommate thrive on routine? Suggest a rotating cleaning schedule instead of nagging about their perpetually overflowing laundry basket. For a sluggish teammate, acknowledge their strengths and then propose a specific, action-oriented task that both plays to their abilities and helps the team progress. As your experience grows, so does your ability to guide others. Instead of just venting in frustration when a peer makes a recurring mistake, try to understand their thought process. Is there a gap in their skill set? A lack of confidence holding them back? Frame your feedback in a way that invests in their improvement, instead of belittling their efforts. This elevates you from “know-it-all” to the sought-after mentor others flock to, enhancing your reputation and the overall performance of those around you.


Your university years are about so much more than what ends up on your transcript. Building a vibrant network means intentionally creating connections that challenge you, inspire you, and open doors you never knew existed. Let Carnegie’s wisdom act as your guiding compass in this endeavour.

Ready to test this out in the real world? Here’s your mission: actively seek out interaction with someone outside your usual social sphere. Sit with the group that always seems to be having the most engaging conversation, even if it makes you slightly nervous. Offer your experience by volunteering to facilitate a discussion, or join a club focused on an area where you’re a total novice. Embrace the initial discomfort, because sometimes the biggest growth lies in the places you’ve never dared to go. Remember, a single interaction, sparked by genuine interest and a bit of proactive courage, can lead to unexpected friendships and opportunities that will shape your university journey and beyond.

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