by Angela Bourassa
When you're heading off to college, you're likely to hear the same refrain over and over again: "College is where you'll meet your people." It's a nice thought, but it's far from a given.
When I went off to college, I was shy and awkward, so naturally, I chose a giant school where I would get lost in the crowd: UCLA. In hindsight, probably not the best choice. I also started college with a boyfriend who headed off to UC Berkeley. I let that be a major hamper to my social game by saying no to events and instead chatting with him on the phone. Again, not a great move.
For me, college wasn't the magical experience that it is for a lot of other people, and the main reason is that I stayed inside my comfort zone and didn't take the wide variety of opportunities I had available to me to make friends.
(Fortunately, I got a second chance at the college experience when I tagged along with my now-husband to law school. He's the kind of person who says yes to everything, which helped me do the same. I wasn't even a student, but those three years were a fricken incredible college experience.)
If you're worried about "finding your people" in college, the semi-good news is that everyone else is worried too. The great news is that you can absolutely find friends for life in college. The bad news is that it will require some work on your part. But trust me -- you can do this.
How to Make Friends in College
The first step to making friends in college is choosing the right school. This is somewhere that I failed, but hopefully, you won't. Don't just consider the schools that have the best names or even necessarily the absolute best programs in your chosen field. Learning from world-class professors will only get you so far if you're miserable.
Remember to take into account campus culture, class size, student/teacher ratio, and the physical location of the school. (If being across the country is going to make you homesick, be honest with yourself about that.)
Once you're at your chosen school, the advice is pretty straight-forward: Get out of your room, introduce yourself to people, and say yes any time that someone invites you to go basically anywhere.
You've probably already heard the standard advice of keeping your dorm room door open, spending time in common areas, going to all the freshman meetups, and joining clubs. I won't repeat all of that (at least not any more than I already have). Instead, I'll give you advice to help make all of those steps easier to do, especially if you're not a social butterfly by nature.
1. Only good things can happen.
This is a mantra that you should repeat to yourself any time you ask a new person to join you for lunch or say hello to the person sitting next to you in class. Only good things can happen. It's true.
I feel you not believing me, so allow me to explain.
Imagine you say hello to someone in class and accidentally burp mid-sentence. The person is officially grossed out and moves a few seats away.
Nothing bad has happened. You weren't friends with that person before, and now you're still not friends with them. Maybe you're a bit embarrassed, which is a bummer, but you don't really need to be. That person wasn't part of your life before, and they still aren't. What they think of you doesn't matter, and they're likely to forget the interaction in a matter of days (if not sooner). You haven't been harmed in any way.
Now imagine you say hello and find out that the person went to the same movie as you last night. You strike up a conversation and become lifelong friends. Or maybe you date for a few weeks. Or maybe that's the only conversation you ever have with them.
Either you build a relationship, or you don't. Only good things can happen!
2. People want to be your friend.
You're a really cool person. There's something about you that is unique and weird and awesome, and the other people at your school want to get to know what that is. Because everyone else is in the same boat as you -- they all want to make friends.
If you're the person with the guts to go up and say hello, nine times out of ten that person will be grateful and excited that you did. And that tenth time, when you happen to pick a real dud -- again -- nothing bad will happen. Just walk away and try again.
3. Find a partner in crime.
If you're someone who gets overwhelmed or lost in big groups, sometimes going into an event or a class with one person that you know well -- or who you clicked with in your computer science class yesterday -- can help you feel more confident and secure.
Just don't use your new friendship or an old one as a reason to sit back. Instead, get introduced to your friend's friends. Introduce them to the people you've met. The easiest way to make new friends is through existing friends.
But if you're truly starting school alone -- no high school friends, no roommates -- you can still be your own partner in crime. By that, I mean that you can use your existing skills and hobbies to seek out clubs, service groups, and intramural sports teams where you can meet people who enjoy the same things that you do. If you know you're a great dodgeball player, the confidence you have from that can help you click with your new team in a way that's natural and a heck of a lot easier than starting from scratch.
4. Remember that college isn't everything.
If you're having a tough time making friends at school -- either because you're lost in the sea or because your class is so small that your options are limited -- don't forget that college, just like high school, isn't everything. You'll have plenty of time to shine at work, in adult rec sports, places of worship, clubs, and with your family.
And maybe, if you're lucky, you'll meet a nice law-school-bound boy who will give you a second chance at an awesome college experience.
You never know.
Make School is a two-year computer science college based in San Francisco that offers a Bachelor's degree in Applied Computer Science. The focus of Make School is providing product-based learning that prepares students for real-world careers in software development. Students graduate with an average salary of $95k.
Learn more about Make School's philosophy, courses, and outcomes at https://www.makeschool.com/computer-science.