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Aug 18, 2021
As August nears its end and a new school year waits around the corner, a certain segment of students who recently graduated high school are coming to the same realization that I did three years ago: starting college is scary!
Moving to a new place without parents for the first time where you know few people (if any) is understandably intimidating. Add on a host of new responsibilities, like staying on top of classes or doing laundry, and this newfound independence can be pretty overwhelming. Yet, the amazing thing about college is exactly that - the glorious independence! There are so many other students in the same situation that freshmen have a unique opportunity to reinvent themselves while building a community of supportive friendships that can make a college campus truly feel like a second home. Still, friends don’t always just show up at our doors (although in college sometimes they do) so here are some tips to pass along to your student to help make new connections quickly as they transition to their next chapter at college.
On-campus clubs offer an amazing opportunity to meet people and try new things in college as they provide an outlet for common interests - the perfect foundation for any strong friendship. Most colleges have a club fair at the beginning of every semester where students can check out booths and learn about the different clubs on campus. There, club leaders are available to answer any questions and passionately talk about the club’s unique members, activities, and structure. If your student’s college doesn’t have a club fair, then they most likely have a directory where they can learn more about campus organizations and clubs at their leisure.
My first semester of college I tried out practically every club I heard about. During those early months, I would start my afternoon at the running club, then make my way to knitting club, and end my evening at salsa club (the dance, although if there was one for the dip I’m sure I would have tried that out too!) The day after, my afternoon would typically be filled with a whole new array of clubs. Looking back as a rising senior, there are countless people I met during these months who I still keep in touch with today or at the very least say hi to when crossing paths between classes. Although committing to too many clubs can definitely be overwhelming, remember that students don’t lose anything by trying something new. Worst case scenario, if they don’t like it, they don’t have to go again. However, students may be surprised to find themselves picking up both a new interest and some new friends just by simply having the courage to try out a club on campus. And even if they don't become a regular member or make any of their closest friends there, these organizations can make campus feel less lonely when there are familiar faces saying “hi!” as they explore their new home or walk to class - which leads me to the next tip….
Ok, I’ll be honest - it can be a little scary to try and make friends in class. No one wants to be that one student chatting away while class is in session, and oftentimes, people are in a rush to get in and out of their classes so it can be tough to find a good time to start a conversation. Even so, many classes offer excellent opportunities to meet other students. In smaller conversation-based classes, for example, you can often get to know people during class discussions or group projects. Both of these allow students to get to know people even while class is in session. Big lecture halls can make it hard to find the space and time to meet fellow classmates, but there are still good ways to make friends in this type of setting as well. Simply noting those who are sitting around you can be a great starting point, as it’s common to run into those same students in a dining hall or dorm lounge. Having a shared class can be a great starting point for a conversation, and the structure of weekly class meetings is the perfect place to steadily nurture that new relationship, even if it’s just by simply sitting next to each other during class or working together on assignments.
Although classes provide some great opportunities for meeting people, college dorms are undoubtedly one of the best places for making new friends. For one, the whole idea of having students live with one another in a shared space is one of the most socially conducive aspects of college life. Secondly, everyone moving into a new dorm as a freshman likely has the same mindset - make new friends!
It can be anxiety-provoking to move away from home and deal with the possibility of having a roommate that they may not get along with. Nevertheless, having a roommate can be one of the easiest ways to make a friend. The first week of freshman year, I barely spoke to my roommate - he was too busy running around doing absolutely every social activity available to students during orientation. At the end of the day when I was too drained to meet any more people, he was heading out to trivia night for new freshmen or some other late-night extravaganza that I could not muster the energy for. However, over the course of the next few weeks, we became great friends. Best of all? I was able to meet all of the people that he had befriended those first few weeks, and he was able to connect with all of the people that I had met. Roommates are a great jumping off point, but if your student’s roommate doesn’t turn out to be good-friend material, don’t worry - there are so many more people in the dorm! Over time, students will begin to see the same friendly faces brushing their teeth next to them each night and running to their early classes at the same time each morning. This familiarity is a great starting point for building a friendship, or at the very least, finding someone to go to the dining hall or a club meeting with. And remember - during those first few months, just about every person wants to meet people and make new friends. The more students remember this and use it to their advantage, the easier it will be to make new connections.
Dining halls provide an excellent opportunity to take advantage of that early-freshman excitement around making new friends, as they are often one of the few places where people are always socializing. During busy meal times in particular, it can be easy to spot a familiar face from a class, club, or dorm. If there are free seats at a table of someone familiar, it’s usually fair game to go over and ask to sit with them as students are often more than happy to have company (especially if there’s some friend potential!) It’s also smart for students to be mindful of their own personality type when choosing a table to sit at. If your student tends to be extroverted or gregarious, they might pick a table with a talkative crowd. On the other hand, if they’re a bit more reserved, they can join someone’s table that seems a bit more like-minded in that regard. By using the dining hall as a way to meet new people, at the very least, students can gain a network of familiar faces on campus they can interact with, even if it’s just casually while walking to class or through the dining hall. At best? That once familiar stranger could become a close friend that lasts well into the college experience (if not beyond!)
Meeting people at college is hard to get wrong, but no matter how much everyone else reciprocates a desire to make friends, it can be tough to get over the social anxiety that comes with meeting new people. There are some things students can do before getting to college that can make the environment feel more comfortable once they arrive. For one, they can reach out to their roommate and try to find a few things that they have in common or talk about the semester ahead. And again, no need to fret if there’s not an immediate connection. It took weeks before my roommate and I started hanging out, but in time, that surface-level relationship ultimately transformed into a close friendship that lasted through college. Still, not everyone becomes best friends with their roommate and that is OK, too. Another thing that students can do before arriving on campus is ask friends and connections from home if they know someone that is going to their school. When I started freshman year, I only knew a girl who went to my same high school but I had never really spoken to. Even though we were far from close friends, she was someone I could talk to before starting school and was an easy person to meet up with in the first week. It can be great to have a connection like that because it can take a lot of social pressure off when there is someone else to pick up the conversation.
Another important component to remember about those early days in college is that the initial conversations will tend to be similar, generally starting with:
"Where are you from?"
"What dorm are you in?"
"What's your major?"
These subjects are usually pretty easy things to talk about, especially if you’re prepared. Hopefully, knowing that the first 15 minutes of most conversations will be filled with some of the easiest questions that one could answer will help reduce some of the “unknown” that can make initial social interactions somewhat scary (although I remember forgetting the name of my dorm more times than I can count in that first week...)
It’s also important to keep in mind that meeting people is hard, and can even be exhausting for many. Some students seem to have boundless social batteries that can last from the moment they wake up right up to the moment they go to sleep, meeting and talking to new people all the while. However, I think it is safe to say that most people are not like that - even the ones who are extroverted! And as much as students may feel obligated to join that additional meet and greet or corn hole game on the green that first week, students should also remember to take care of themselves and get the rest that they need. It’s usually better to attend the next event after a good recharge than stumble half asleep from one event to the next.
If there’s one bit of advice to remember, the best thing students can do when they arrive on campus is to simply get out there and talk to people. That first week, students will talk to a lot of people, many of whom they may never have another conversation with again. However, you never know who you might be sitting next to in a few years reminiscing about the first conversation you had where you couldn't even remember the name of your own dorm. And remember - every time a student puts in the effort to meet new people, they’re flexing that social muscle. Those connections they build will help form a network that helps them cope with challenges and celebrate successes during their time on campus - and hopefully for many more years to come!
For more information about how to support college students, watch our free on-demand webinar with a panel of experts in student success.
Isy Mekler is an intern at Beyond Booksmart and a rising senior at Brown University studying Behavioral Decision Sciences and Data Science. In his time at Beyond Booksmart, Isy has had the pleasure of meeting and learning about how each person at the company helps make positive change in the lives of people struggling with their executive function skills. Working primarily in the marketing department doing market research, data analysis, and content creation, Isy is thankful for the opportunity to practice his skills and develop new ones.
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