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$70,000 Spent at University - Just to Feel Like You Belong?

two students studying

Did you see the article published this week by the PIE about a student who spent $70,000 while at an Australian university, just to fit in and make friends?

Realising the error of his ways, that student is now making and sharing videos about his experiences so others don’t make the same mistake.

Now, I regard myself as a fairly empathetic person, but my instinctive reaction to the headline was “Really? Who spends $70k to make friends?”.

However, on closer reading I did become more sympathetic. Here was a student dealing with a significant life change, moving to a completely new country, experiencing some serious culture shock. He clearly wasn’t equipped to deal with it, and he most certainly isn’t alone in this respect. This is an extreme version of the challenges that pretty much every student faces when they head to university.

You see, belonging matters – both in choosing a university, and in succeeding once you’re there. My colleague Emma Froud has written about this before in a fantastic piece about the importance of belonging, but it’s worth reiterating that in terms of choosing a university, research shows that a sense of belonging trumps all the league tables and all the marketing gloss.

A sense of belonging may be utterly intangible, but we all know how it is created – through connections with people and connections with places. We all know when we reach out and create a bond with someone we have something in common with – sometimes it just clicks. And we know that sometimes we visit a place and it just feels right.

That sense that we’re part of something creates confidence, and for a student arriving at university, the confidence that they fit and belong is exactly what they need – to settle in, make friends and make a success of their time at university.

So my challenge to Higher Education is this: are we really doing enough to connect students, and to create that sense of being part of a community – even before they arrive on campus? Can we work a bit harder to help make sure no student ever feels they have to spend silly money just to fit in? Can we help students to arrive with just that bit more confidence so they can succeed on their own terms?

Fundamentally this is why we built Unibuddy, and I hope perhaps this cautionary tale might inspire some in Higher Education to take a look at how we help students connect, so they can belong and succeed.

Unibuddy helps students thrive through sharing their experiences, effortless technology and the smart application of data.

Together, the platform and student ambassadors provide an outlet for an institution’s authentic voice, a deeper insight into the market’s motivations and foster a sense of belonging – even before applying.

Unibuddy is working with 100 institutions across the world, optimising conversion throughout the student application cycle, from lead generation through to enrolment, with some impressive results. But don’t just take our word for it. Have a look at and find out what some of our partners say.

If you’d like to know more about Unibuddy’s peer-to-peer platform get in touch on or book a demo.

About the author

Jonathan Tinnacher, Chief Customer Officer

Jonathan has worked in student recruitment and marketing for 25 years, most recently as Director of Student Recruitment at Imperial College. He joined Unibuddy as Chief Customer Officer in 2017, helping the peer-to-peer platform grow to working with more than 100 partners across the globe.

Having caught the travel bug during his time in International Recruitment, he hasn’t missed an opportunity since to indulge his wanderlust.

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