I’ve already written a lot about making friends in articles like How To Make Friends And Get A Social Life and How To Meet People. Even though some of the ideas in this article will repeat ideas from the ones above, I want to specifically talk about these concepts in terms of making friends in university.
The college environment really is one of the easiest places to make friends. You’re surrounded by thousands peers, most of whom are open to meeting people. Of course, that statement can seem like a slap in the face if you’re at college and struggling with your social life. It can make you feel like there’s something extra wrong with you for having trouble in such a supposedly easy situation.
The same basic structure for making friends applies
In the article How To Make Friends And Get A Social Life I lay out a basic structure for making friends:
- Put yourself in places where potential friends are, and then meet and talk to them
- Take the initiative to hang out with the people you seem to click with
- Keep making plans and hanging out with these people you get along with and see where the budding friendship goes. Things can’t work out with everyone, but some will become your friends.
In university the ‘finding potential friends’ part is a lot easier because there are so many opportunities to meet people. Some students stumble on the ‘taking initiative’ step. In the past they may never have had many friends, or fell into their social circle by accident. Maybe they’ve been hanging out with the same people since middle school, or they just somehow ended up becoming friends with their high school track team without realizing how. Now that they’re in a new environment they may not consciously know how to form a social circle and think it’s something that will just passively happen to them.
Making friends during your first few weeks of college
Farther down I’ll share some thoughts on how people can make friends during day-to-day university life. In this section I’ll talk about meeting people during those first few weeks.
Pretty much everyone feels at least a little nervous, awkward, and overwhelmed
Yeah, there are a handful of people who glide into the college experience effortlessly and confidently and seem to know half the campus by the end of the third day. Don’t worry about them. They’re the minority. Most people feel awkward and uncertain when they first go to university. It is a major life transition after all. The thing is most people put on a brave face and act like they have it together, because they believe everyone else feels that way. Nervousness also doesn’t show as much as you’d think. So you have a situation where pretty much everyone feels a bit uncomfortable, but they look around and see that all the other people appear confident. So they decide they better act self-assured too. Then an unsure person glances at them and the cycle continues.
It’s possible you’ll find everything easier than you thought it would be
Most people are understandably worried about whether they’ll be able to make friends in college. If they’re currently shy or awkward they have even more reason to fret about it. Sometimes people are anxious beforehand, but once they arrive for that first week of school they find everything just seems to work out. They still feel shy and out of their element, but at the same time, they meet people and form a social circle much more easily than they would have expected.
What I think happens in these situations is that even though that person saw themselves as inhibited or clumsy, they had more social skills and positive traits under the surface than they realized or gave themselves credit for. Once they were put in the new, easy-to-meet-people university environment those hidden strengths were able to show themselves.
This point isn’t to falsely get anyone’s hopes up. I also realize that many people come to college and continue to struggle socially, and need additional help. However, I just wanted to mention the possibility that you may worry about college a lot beforehand, but find things aren’t so hard once you get there.
See if you can get to know some people before the school year actually starts
Lots of people do just fine going into a new school not knowing a single other person. Many of the other students are in the exact same boat, so the situation isn’t too stacked against them. It can take the edge off though if there are some familiar faces waiting for you when you arrive.
One way this often happens automatically is if you already know someone who’s going to the same school as you. Even if they’re just a high school acquaintance, it can still help to have someone to hang around with at first. Though if you know someone who’s going to the same college as you, and you really don’t like each other that much, don’t feel you have to force yourself to hang out with them. It may be easier to just start from scratch and go it alone.
Some colleges will hold orientation or information events in the weeks and months prior to the school year officially starting. If you can make it to these you may get the chance to get to know a few people from your program ahead of time.
Depending on your program there may also be a Facebook page set up for it, “University of Whatever – Political Science class of 20XX” or something like that. You can reach out to some of your classmates who have also joined the page, or there may be threads started about people meeting up.
Try to visit and get familiar with the campus and surrounding area ahead of time
This won’t be feasible for everyone, but it can take away a chunk of your anxiety if you’ve already visited the school and know your way around a little. It’s one less thing you have to worry about. Also, it can give you a bit of a leg up if you’re the person who can show people where things are, or if you can say, “Oh, how about we all go to Place X tonight? I know it. It’s good.”
If you really want to get some practice with the university experience, go backpacking beforehand
In the article on how traveling can help you improve your social skills I mention how the backpacker/hostel life is similar to being at university. That also goes for learning how to meet people and make friends with them quickly. I totally realize this option isn’t affordable or practical for everyone, but if it interests you, try traveling for a bit over the summer between high school and college. Or if you were planning to take a year off before starting university, do it then.
Go to as many Frosh Week/Freshers’ Week/O-Week events as you can
The name is different depending on what country you’re in, but the idea is the same. It’s that first orientation/initiation/partying week for the incoming freshmen before classes start. There are lots of other students from your faculty to meet here so go to as many events as you can. Over the week you’ll also start to see the same people at different activities, giving you more of a chance to get to know them.
The events are mostly run and organized by older students. Not all of these guides will be helpful, but some of them will go out of their way to make sure everyone feels comfortable and included. If you’re at these events and feel a bit awkward about talking to the other students, you may find it a bit easier to chat to the guides. You can do that to get yourself in a more talkative mood, then try talking to your peers.
The week can seem a bit overwhelming and crazy and partying-focused. This is one situation where I’d advise people to go anyway, push their comfort zones, and try to make the best of it. It’s an experience you’ll only get to do once, and there are a lot of benefits to going. Not all of the activities are pub crawls either. Universities realize not every student drinks, or is legally allowed to drink, and will try to accommodate them with non-partying activities.
If you live in residence try to get to know the people on your floor
A lot of this will happen automatically, as you can’t help but run into people as you move your stuff in or walk down the halls. Take it a step further though and try to talk to as many of your floormates as you can. Go around and knock on doors and introduce yourself to people. Don’t worry that this will make you seem lame and desperate. It’s just friendly. Hang out in the common room and chat to whoever else comes in. Drop in on the floors above and below you and see what’s going on there.
If you live at home or off-campus try to hang around campus as much as you can
People who live at home, or who live in an apartment far away from campus often have a harder time meeting people at school, simply because they’re not around everyone as much. There are so many more social opportunities living in Residence. Especially during the first few weeks, don’t head home as soon as you no longer have to be on campus. Stick around and see if there are any chances to meet people.
Chat to whoever you want to, since it’s okay to do so
Sometimes people have the attitude that they can’t just chat to people they don’t know because it’s bothering the other person, or that it’s just a weird, inappropriate thing to do. That’s not really true in general, but it’s especially not true when university is first starting. It’s a free for all in terms of meeting new people and trying to get to know them. Start conversations with whoever you want to. If you’re in the auditorium to hear some presentation about Campus Safety, say hello to the people sitting beside you. Chat to the people walking with you when you’re at a Frosh Week event. Talk to other students in the elevator in your residence.