How to make friends in college

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Here’s how to meet new people and make new friends in college. These strategies helped me when I had to make new friends in my sophomore year. We’ve made sure that this guide works even if you’re an introvert, shy, have social anxiety, or just don’t like to socialize, and no matter if you live on campus or off-campus.

1. Get out of your room, house, comfort zone

It can be tempting to hibernate in your dorm room or in your off-campus apartment. BUT you need people, and the only way to forge friendships is to find them. This means taking trips to the cafeterias (often), library, lounge areas, campus pub, join a club or get a job there.

If you don’t want to go to these places alone, invite your roommate, a classmate or be brave and say hi to someone in line at the cafe and say, “Do you want to grab a seat together?” Then sit down and find out more about each other.

2. Talk to people

Talking to new people can be hard. Sometimes you need to push yourself to interact. I didn’t see the purpose of small talk before I realized that it’s the start of all friendships: It’s a warm-up to an interesting conversation and a signal that you’re open for interaction. If you don’t talk, people will assume that you don’t like them.

If you’re in class, chat about the course, the assignments or the Prof. If you live off-campus, talk to your classmates but also join clubs or get a job on campus. You want to make sure that you spend lots of time interacting with people you want to become friends with. That allows close friendships to form.[1]

More on how to start conversations.

3. Take the initiative – invite people to lunch, study, play a sport

Once you’ve said hi to someone a couple of times or you’ve sat beside them in class, the next time you see them, take the opportunity and suggest you do something together. Things like, “I’m going to grab some lunch. Wanna come?” or “Are you going to the pub tonight? (Insert band name) is playing.” or “I was thinking of going to the football game this weekend. Are you going?”

Simple inquiries that say you’d like to get together if they’re interested. Most people don’t do this because they’re afraid of rejection. If you can overcome this fear, you’ll have a huge advantage when making friends.

4. Say “Yes” to every invitation

Great job, all the work you’ve put in is paying off! They’re asking if you want to come out now. I know you’re near exhausted from the effort, but for your future – say “Yes.”

You don’t have to commit to the whole night if it’s an evening out. Or more than an hour or two for an event. The bottom line is: say “yes,” and more invitations will come your way. Say “no,” and you likely won’t get a second invite.

5. Get an on-campus job

This is the holy grail of easy-ways-to-make-friends-at-school. You will have tonnes in common with your workmates: young, in post-secondary, school stress, lack of disposable income, first time away from home, missing home, eating way too much fast food, not eating enough food, figuring out how to cook, setting things on fire….

Then there are all the job things you share: the boss, customers, shift work, low wages, funny stories that happen there.

Here’s a guide on how to find a campus job.

6. Talk in class and make plans to do stuff afterward

Talk to your neighbor in class. The person who made a comment that you agree with (or don’t). The person who asks if you have a pen. Any small interaction is an ice-breaker, and the more you reach out, the better you’ll get at it. Eventually, the conversations will keep going as you see each other more often.

Keep it easy-going and positive. Try making observations about what’s going on around you, the workload or a question you have about the subject. Then when you get a few responses, suggest a course WhatsApp chat, a study session for midterms, or lunch or dinner if it’s close to either.

7. Join an on-campus club

Pick a club you know you’ll enjoy. Something that aligns with your interests and that you can stick with, given your school workload. You’re looking for people like you. So if you like to geek out to Dungeons & Dragons, do it, and find your people. Same with sports, art, business, whatever moves you.

More on how to find like-minded people.

8. Leave your door open if you live in a dorm

When you’re not studying or sleeping, keep your door open. It’s an invitation for others to pop their head in and say Hi. You’ll also hear what’s going on outside, which is usually some kind of stupid or fun. Be part of the crowd. Enjoy the insanity.

Campus life is really just big people camp with slightly higher stakes. Focus on your studies, but make sure you soak in all that social life. It only comes around once, for those of us lucky enough to go.

9. Look approachable

If social situations make you tense, it probably shows in your body language. Try smiling so your eyes crinkle at the sides. Or if you tend to frown when you’re anxious, breath out and relax your forehead. By the way, it’s impossible to frown if you are smiling. Lastly, keep your arms by your side and avoid looking at your phone.

So many of the things we do when we’re tense are unconscious. If you’d like more advice on how to be more approachable, check out this article.

10. Take time to recharge

It can be hard and draining to make new friends. It sucks sometimes. You CAN go home on weekends and recoup with your families and fill your emotional tank up. Allow yourself to just be by yourself, and play video games some nights. In fact, you definitely should. You’ll feel better.

Then come back and keep trying. Your hard work will be rewarded. And most of all, know that there are people out there for you. Just keep looking and enjoy your own company.

11. Don’t give up – it takes time, and that’s normal

Making brand new friends takes longer than most people think. It’s normal to just have superficial acquaintances in the 6 first months of college. You can speed up this process by daring to be personal with people you know.

12. Connect with outgoing people

Go in search of outgoing people even if they intimidate you. Dare to be friendly toward them, and they will very likely be friendly back.[2] Outgoing people are “in the know.” They’ll be able to connect you with lots of new people and events. Follow them and see who you meet.

13. Be interested in everyone as a potential friend – you’re not desperate, you’re open

Get your antennae out and look for someone who seems to need a friend. Be friendly, talk about your classes, frosh week, where you’re from, where they’re from…keep going until you say goodbye, or you head out to lunch/dinner together. Shift your perspective from “Trying to make friends” to “Being nice to others who might need a friend.” Rinse, Lather, Repeat with everyone you meet until you click with the people who are your best fit.

14. Gear yourself up for interaction – positive people attract others

Prep a few ‘good stories’ about your day or something interesting that happened to you when someone asks you how you are. If someone makes an effort to talk to you, reward them with your full attention and keep the conversation going equally back and forth.

Keep it positive. I know the first few semesters are stressful, but you’re doing it, and every day it gets easier. Save you’re “I’m dying” stories until you know each other better. Or until you find a great connection, then all the stories will come out, both yours and theirs.

15. Give people time before you decide if you like them

You know that old adage about dating: go out with someone 3 times before you decide if you want to see them more. It works for friends too. Getting to know people takes time, and we aren’t all good at first impressions. You’re not trying to replace your friends from high school, so stop looking for them at college. These are new people who will teach and give you new things. Be open to the experience.

16. Don’t cancel plans

You may not feel like it, or you’re not up for the initial awkwardness, but seriously, someone put their ego on the line to invite you somewhere. It’s only decent of you to show up. You don’t have to stay for the whole night. If you cancel, you might not get a second invite from them.

17. Be a good listener

Some people talk when they’re nervous. If you’re one of them, try to be a good listener. It’s the #1 quality of a true friend. That being said, you also want to contribute to the conversation, so it is appropriately balanced, and they are getting to know you at the same pace.

To do this, after you’ve shown genuine interest and asked about their story, add relevant comments indicating when you’ve had a similar experience or reacting to how they must have felt during their story.

18. Keep snacks in your room

Everyone loves the snack person. A well-stocked drawer of chips, chocolate, gummies, drinks, veggie snacks, gluten-free, it’s up to you. It’s a small price to pay to attract goodwill and pleasant conversation.

Make sure not to overdo it. You don’t want this to be your only benefit. Mooching is an Olympic sport in college. Keep enough on hand, so you always have something and rotate your stock. Kindness and generosity never get old.

19. Know that it only takes one friend to break the drought (more follow quickly)

It only takes one friend for you to emotionally and mentally relax and know you’re going to be OK. One friend takes the edge off the loneliness and keeps the twinge of desperation away. Oh, and remember, most people coming to college/uni are having the same struggle finding and forming their friend groups. It will happen.

20. Go to parties or other social events

This is the traditional approach. It tends to work best when you have a wing-man/woman with you. Not for romantic adventures per se (but that’s OK too), it’s so you have someone to talk to as you push through the crowd, hold up the bar or claim a few seats.

21. Go to an on-campus event – football, face-painting, the pub

If you’ve got one person you hang out with, grab them and go to an on-campus event. That’s an excellent place to meet their friends or other people you’ve met in class etc. It’s low stress, and there are activities you can do while you’re there (watch the game, pub trivia, billiards). As you’re having fun, people will be thinking of other ways to get together again.

22. Bring people together who might like each other

If you know two people who might like each other, invite both of them to hang out. You’ll position yourself as the one who knows people. More importantly, others might start asking you to join friends they think you might like, too.

23. Read up on people skills

Polish your social skills, and you’ll become more efficient at making new friends. College might be the best time in life to improving your social skills because you have so many opportunities to practice. Here’s how to improve your people skills.

If you’re soon finishing college, you might be interested in our guide on how to make friends AFTER college.

References

  1. Hall, J. A. (2019). How many hours does it take to make a friend?. Journal of social and personal relationships, 36(4), 1278-1296.
  2. Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2009). Reciprocity of liking. In Encyclopedia of human relationships (pp. 1333-1336). SAGE Publications, Inc.

Viktor is SocialPro's expert in communication and relationships.

He has a B.A. with a major in Psychology at University of Gothenburg and a B.Sc. with a major in Biological engineering at Chalmers University of Technology

Before he joined SocialPro, he worked as a relationship and dating coach.

Follow on Twitter or read more.

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