Going off to college can be scary for a lot of reasons. The difficult academics and the fact that it’s many people’s first time away from home are big challenges, but the fear of not fitting in socially is incredibly common among soon-to-be college freshmen. During orientation, there will be throngs of new people, forced and awkward interactions, and a pervading sense that everyone else has already gotten everything figured out. All these forces – coupled with the transition to an entirely new way of life (college living) – can be quite daunting when a person starts to think about how he or she is going to go about making meaningful friendships.
If this sounds like you, don’t be afraid! Feeling nervous about making friends and fitting in is a perfectly normal part of the transition to college. Being thrown from a position where you’ve known everyone in your school for your whole childhood into a place where every face is unrecognizable is a scary thing for anyone, regardless of what they might tell you. Never fear, though, these worries are easily overcome: here are a few tips and things to keep in mind as you try to navigate the collegiate friend-making process.
1. Remember that everyone is in the same position as you. It’s helpful to keep in mind that you aren’t alone in feeling nervous. Everyone has been thrust into the same new situation that you are in. This does mean that other people are nervous, but it also means that they are actively seeking out new friends; when two people who are looking for friends meet each other, there’s a good chance they will find something to be friendly about! If that doesn’t convince, you, just remember that millions of people have already gone through the same process and came out all right. Think of the stories your uncle has probably told you about the fun, crazy times he had with his freshman roommate!
2. The people who look like they have everything figured out, don’t! It’s too easy to look around at all the smiling faces around you and worry that everyone else has already found their best friends. Most of the time, those people are just really good actors. As the saying goes, people will “fake it ‘til they make it,” so there’s no need to feel behind if you don’t yet feel like you’re the pinnacle of popularity.
3. Go outside your comfort zone – but stay true to yourself. If you’re anything like me (a pretty hard core introvert), the prospect of going to a random meet-and-greet sounds about as fun as counting blades of grass. However, I dragged myself out to class gatherings on the main green during my orientation, and while I didn’t find any of my best friends there, it is nice to see people around campus that I met during my first few days at school. Be social and say yes to things when you’re on the fence, but once you’re actually at an event, make sure to be yourself. After all, you’ll only find real friends if they get to know the real you.
4. The cliché advice is pretty good advice. I’m sure you’ve heard the same refrains over and over again: Join clubs! Meet people in classes! Talk to your neighbors! These might sound cheesy or overused, but they’re actually not bad pieces of advice. Orientation events can expose you to a wide variety of people, but clubs and classes are places where you’re likely to meet people who have similar interests and hobbies. Additionally, it’s nice for your dorm to be a homey atmosphere, and being friendly with your dorm-mates only contributes to that good feeling!
5. Keep a long-term perspective. Making friends is hard, and it takes time. Manage your expectations so you don’t feel bad about yourself at all if you haven’t found the best friends you’ve ever met within the first two weeks of school. It’s okay if you’re not in love with every new person you meet. If you keep searching around and approach the endeavor with a positive attitude, sooner or later you will find a group of people that you can’t remember ever being in college without.
Take a breath, be yourself, and eschew any nervousness of being awkward. Chances are most people won’t remember you anyway, so go out, have fun, and make some great new pals!