While social media has made it easier than ever for college students to figure out where the lit parties are, or gently stalk their assigned roommate before move-in day, making IRL friends and true connections in college is not always so simple.
The truth is, going from high school to college is a big life transition, whether you're moving across the country or just going down the street. In college, your worldview widens, you experience lots of life changes, and your social circle also grows big time. "It makes relationships quite difficult in this transition," says Akua K. Boateng, PhD, LPC, a licensed psychotherapist in Philadelphia. You have to decide, "who will be the people that will accompany me in this journey?" she adds.
If the thought of making small talk in a classroom or rushing a sorority makes you nervous, here's some expert advice for making friends from Dr. Boateng and others:
Join a club or other group.
While clubs might've seemed like something you had to do to check off an extra-curricular requirement in high school, in college, that's not the case. Have an idea of an activity you’d want to pursue, so you can utilize your strengths and passions, Dr. Boateng says. When you seek out things you're passionate about, you'll meet like-minded people, she says. "Find a topic you have a lot of awareness about already, in order to relate to another person," she adds.
Diversify your interests.
Always wanted to join the newspaper, but never had the time in high school? Use college as a chance to expand and diversify your interests, Dr. Boateng says. And if you can't find a group or club that matches what you want to pursue, look outside of campus for opportunities in the town or city where you live, adds Marni Amsellem, PhD, licensed psychologist in Connecticut and New York. Or, better yet, make your own.
Support a cause you believe in.
Students today are more engaged in political and social issues than ever before. In many ways, college is a time to explore what your beliefs and ideologies are, which is exciting, but daunting, Dr. Boateng says. From gun control to environmental activism, there are lots of different groups and organizations that your school might host. You'll not only meet and socialize with other people who share your views, but feel good about the time you're spending working toward the greater good, too.
Don't use alcohol to loosen up.
People will often lean on alcohol or other substances to help ease their anxiety, and feel more comfortable in a social situation, Dr. Amsellem says. "[Alcohol] might be something that is easier to acquire in college than it was in high school, or might be completely new in college," she says. Just be aware that, although people do this to manage their feelings, it's not the best habit to develop.
PSA: you don't have to join Greek life, or go to sorority and fraternity parties if you're not into that vibe. They say that the best way to bond with someone is over a shared hatred of something, so don't feel pressure to participate just because everyone else is. You might be surprised to find how many people share your distaste the Greek life at your school, Dr. Amsellem says.
Let go of some of your ties to home.
Leaving your home friends can be bittersweet, but often "a decline in those former relationships really requires us to form new ones," Dr. Boateng says. Understand that losing touch with people can be a good thing, or open new doors for you to make college friends. "If we didn’t, maybe we wouldn’t move into this new frontier of relationships," she says.
Follow people on social media.
Chances are you'll know what your new friends are up to because you'll see their social media updates. Instead of just watching their Instagram stories from afar, actually engage with their content. "If it's a priority to keep up and maintain that relationship, you could kind of send them a message and say, How was that party? How are things?" Dr. Boateng says. The same goes for your far-flung friends, too.
Remember everyone is starting over.
As cliques start to form, it might feel like everyone has a BFF except for you. It's important to keep reminding yourself that everyone is starting new — even if they seem to have it all figured out, Dr. Amsellem says. "People might know each other, they might have met through roommates, or whomever before college," she says. "But, chances are, you're starting over just like everybody else, without knowing very many people." In other words, you're not alone.
Actually talk to people.
Starting an IRL conversation isn't always the most natural thing — in fact, it can be pretty awkward. Dr. Amsellem suggests starting conversations by asking people where they're from. "You can find ways to connect with people through just getting to know where they're from," she adds.
Seek emotional support.
Loneliness is real, and sometimes you'll need to talk to someone beyond just asking where they're from and what hobbies they have. Dr. Boateng says that, when you're in need of support, you should open up with the people in close proximity to you. "Often we’re silently suffering and we could actually live next to a person who, if we’d open up, could provide insight," she says. Being emotionally transparent is always a good thing. You can also find counseling services for free (or at discounted prices) on most college campuses, or through the website, ThrivingCampus.