Students who began their undergraduate university studies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (the ‘COVID cohort’), may have been particularly at risk for experiencing increased loneliness. This study employed an exploratory egocentric network and mixed-methods approach to investigate the links between social networks and loneliness in the COVID cohort. Of sixty-one respondents meeting inclusion criteria for the study, fifty-eight first-year undergraduate students from the September 2020 intake at a large Scottish University provided egocentric network data via an online survey, as well as responses to three open-ended questions which were aimed at generating qualitative data about participants’ experiences of starting university in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Bivariate analyses suggest that having a larger social network, and higher satisfaction with that network, was associated with reduced loneliness. We additionally explored these associations in subsamples of students living on-campus and living off-campus. Our qualitative data adds valuable insight into the impact that pandemic-related social-distancing restrictions had on limiting students’ opportunities for meeting their peers and forging meaningful social connections at university. Limitations of this study include a small sample size and an exploratory approach requiring further investigation and replication. However, in the context of universities continuing to use hybrid teaching models, this study provides useful initial insights, highlighting potential avenues for institutions to support students in developing social connections in the transition to higher education.

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Richardson, L., Long, E., Goodfellow, C., Milicev, J. & Gardani, M. 2024, 'Starting an undergraduate degree amid the COVID-19 pandemic: a mixed-method egocentric network study on student loneliness', PLoS ONE, 19(2), article no: e0297953. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0297953

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Last updated: 23 April 2024
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