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How to Cope with Social Comparison as a Student

Social comparisons encourage us to self-evaluate our abilities against others'. This kind of self-assessment can occur when we compare ourselves to those who we perceive as superior or inferior, or in other words, when we make upward and downward social comparisons. In this article, we’ll discuss the consequences of social comparison and how to achieve a healthy balance.

Why should we be mindful of social comparisons? Recent research has highlighted that students who tend to make more upward social comparisons have lower academic confidence. Confidence is a key motivating factor for students, and often improves academic performance. Likewise, those who made less comparisons overall reported higher academic confidence. However, making upward social comparisons isn’t always a bad thing.


Sometimes, upward social comparisons can encourage us to work on ourselves. Particularly, if we perceive that there are similarities between us and the other person. In this study, a distinction is made between the two types of envy that can arise from social comparisons. Those who experience benign envy are perhaps more likely to engage in self-improvement. However, they found that those who experienced malicious envy when making social comparisons were at risk of engaging in academic dishonesty. So, how can you manage the balancing act of upward social comparisons?


Evaluate your priorities


In the age of social media, it’s very easy for us to make social comparisons with those near and far. We’re exposed to the achievements and lifestyles of our peers all the time. Consequently, we might begin to feel that something is lacking in our lives. But it’s important to stop and think. For example, you might hear one of your peers has spent all day studying at the library for an upcoming exam, and begin to feel that you’re not putting in enough time in comparison. However, we all work differently and it’s essential to know what works for you. You can’t know for sure the quality of the work they produced and how much time they actually spent studying. It’s great to understand how others are working but don’t let such things hinder your progress. Additionally, evaluate whether another’s achievements align with what you want out of your life. Of course, it feels nice to achieve great things, but they’re not always essential to our end goals.


Acknowledge your strengths


Have you ever received a grade that you’re incredibly proud of, only to lose your spark after hearing others received higher grades than yours? You should still be proud of yourself. That’s a piece of work that you crafted with your time and effort. There will always be someone who has done better, in one way or another, so you should still always celebrate your small and big wins. When looking up to others, we often forget that others are probably looking up to us too. It might help to make some downward comparisons and realise that we too have abilities worth celebrating. Of course, don’t go looking down on others in a negative way; appreciate that you were once in their position too. Compare yourself to a younger version of you. Recognise that you have grown and developed your skills and abilities over time, and will in the future too.


Improvement is possible


Sometimes, we might find that we’re not where we would like to be in life or, that we feel unable to see any growth or improvement. That’s okay. Be honest with yourself. If you can acknowledge what you lack and what you would like to change, you can use others as a source of inspiration and start to move towards your goals - instead of letting envy get the better of you. For example, if you're unhappy with your grades, seek advice. Talk to your lecturers and reach out to other students for insight. You can look up guides and tips online too. Don’t assume that you’re incapable of achieving; try to take a new approach.


Finally, life isn’t purely about levelling up or being better than one another. Match your intentions and goals with the lifestyle you would like to live. If you can identify why you want to achieve a certain thing, or develop a particular habit, you’ll have a concrete reason that can motivate you long term. 


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