What determines the friends you make in school?

Posted on November 19, 2013

It’s a common perception portrayed in movies from “The Breakfast Club” to “Mean Girls.” Teenage friendships are formed by joining cliques such as jocks, geeks and goths.

But a national study led by a Michigan State University scholar finds that the courses students take have powerful effects on the friendships they make. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Sociology, indicate the pattern of course-taking is distinctive to each high school. In one school, for example, friendships may form among students taking woodshop, Spanish and European history, while in another it may be among students taking agricultural business management, advanced accounting and calculus.

Students were more likely to make friends in small classes, often electives, which set them off from the general student population. Friendships were more likely to be created in Latin 4 and woodshop, for example, than in a large physical education class that is required of everyone in a particular grade.

Students who take the same set of courses tend to get to know each another very well and focus less on social status, such as how “cool” someone is. They’re also less likely to judge classmates on visible characteristics like race and gender.

In addition, Frank said girls are more likely to take more demanding math classes if other girls in their shared sets of courses took advanced math. “In other words,” he said, “the peer groups that formed around shared courses had implications for students’ academic effort as well as their social world.”

The findings have implications for school administrators as well. Schools that simply offer classes without thought to mixing up high- and low-achieving students run the risk of driving them apart socially and academically, Frank said.

To combat this, he said schools could better highlight the value of certain academic pursuits – such as math – and also group students together in ninth grade so the low-achievers have high-achievers in their classes potentially throughout high school.


Category(s):Friendships

Source material from Michigan State University


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