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Study finds college first-years are turning away from conventional socializing

<p>Photo Illustration | More first-year students are living their first year of college on the Internet and less through in-person socialization, according to a study from the University of California, Los Angeles.</p>

Photo Illustration | More first-year students are living their first year of college on the Internet and less through in-person socialization, according to a study from the University of California, Los Angeles.

According to a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Higher Education Research Institute, incoming college first-year students are spending less time socializing with peers and more time immersed in online activities.

In a survey of more than 153,000 first-years students at 227 universities across the U.S., researchers have found almost 80 percent of students spend five hours or less per week with friends, opting to devote more time to online social networking.

Although some people might view this behavior as anti-social, Anushree Sikchi, a Rutgers Business School first-year student, said she believes peer connections are still taking place, just in a more tech-savvy way.

“I don’t think of the Internet and social media as a way for us (to) avoid in-person socializing, but (instead as) another, equally viable method of communication,” Sikchi said.

First-year students have an increased online presence because they are in a transitional period, balancing long-distance high school friendships, she said.

Her belief that forms of communication, and consequentially forms of socializing, are changing, is supported by a 2012 study where six out of 10 students listed texting as a primary method of communication.

In addition, almost 50 percent of participants preferred online messaging instead of verbal communication, according to the report.

Rahma Tayyab, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said this is similar to her own college experience, as in-person socializing can become mentally draining at times.

“Virtual communication removes the physical person sitting across from you and breaks down walls,” she said. “(This allows) you to form a deeper connection that otherwise might not have taken place.”

Tayyab said she spends 35 hours per week on the Internet and social media, but still dedicates 10 hours a week toward hanging out with friends.

Although she said that with a busy college lifestyle, it is easier to socialize online, she said she does not believe it can ever replace in-person communication.

Nicole Cameli, a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior, said her experience as a first-year student deviated from the results of the study.

“As a freshman, I didn’t use the Internet or social media as much because I wanted to socialize more in person and be more active,” she said.

Unlike Sikchi, Cameli said socializing, in the true sense of the word, relies on verbal communication and physical interactions, not online activities.

In-person communication does not allow for precision in language and ideas, Rachel James, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said.

“Social media is a jumping platform,” she said. “It’s where initial contact is made but then those topics and ideas need to be brought to real life conversation.”

Aside from the focus of online communication, some students also find the rise in Internet use is largely due to the technological advancements that are necessitated in contemporary education.

“I use the Internet about seven hours a week, for academic purposes,” Monika Bagle, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said.

Bagle said it is extremely difficult to be a college student without using the Internet because most professors share grades and homework virtually, which causes her academic obligations to overlap with online use.

In the study, researchers also mentioned a possible link between a decline of face-to-face socializing and an increase in emotional health issues.

“It seems students are neglecting their social lives … Not having a social outlet may be contributing to increased levels of anxiety, and increased feelings of being overwhelmed,” Kevin Eagan, a researcher and professor at UCLA, told Bloomberg Business.

According to a data analysis by Eagan’s team, nearly 10 percent of students reported frequent feelings of depression and anxiety.

The first year could affect a student’s emotional well-being, Cameli said.

“I think it’s really stressful because you’re in a new environment and I remember having a lot of anxiety with making friends and getting myself integrated with college community,” she said.

Students who socialize less may feel more isolated, Bagle said. The combined factors of newfound independence and pressures of adulthood can become overwhelming.

Tayyab said first-year students tend to develop stress and anxiety as a result of pressure to become successful when compared to accomplished upperclassmen peers.

Students may prioritize academic success and devalue connecting and socializing with other college peers, she said.

Looking back on her first year, Cameli said despite intimidation or fear, students should choose to socialize with peers on campus because it leads to self-growth and personal development.

“My advice (to first-years) would be, don’t spend your freshmen year hiding in your room on the Internet,” she said.

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