How to Make Friends in College

Collaborating authors: Rob Danzman, NCC, LPC, LMHC, Alexander R. Daros, Ph.D., C.Psych., Krystal M. Lewis, Ph.D.

This guide is intended to help you as a student make friends throughout your college experience. Know that it’s possible to make friends in college even if you’re an introvert, shy, have social anxiety, or just don’t like to socialize, and regardless of whether you live on-campus or off-campus. Here’s how to meet new people and make new friends in college:

Part 1: Making Friends if You Study Online
Part 2: Making Friends on Campus
Part 3: Forming Connections with Peers
Part 4: Socializing if You Have Social Anxiety

Part 1: Making Friends If You Study Online

Because of the current circumstances with social distancing, most people in college are studying online today. But how do you befriend your classmates when you no longer regularly meet up in school? Here are four ways to make friends when you’re studying online.

Become an active member of a student organization or club

Most student organizations and clubs have an online page where you can apply to join. Joining a student organization is a great way to get a “foot in the door” and get to know people even if you study from home. There are usually loads of student organizations to choose from, like animal welfare, gaming, sports, politics, or whatever floats your boat. If you choose something you’re interested in, you’re sure to find many like-minded friends there.

Participate actively in your online class discussion forums

Most colleges have an online discussion board, and usually, it’s divided by class or course. By being an active member there, you make sure your classmates will remember you. This will help you to take the next steps later on.

Make an effort to engage with your classmates on the discussion board. Try to help out when you can and post supportive comments. If there’s a forum thread where you can introduce yourself, include a link to your social media profile(s) and invite anyone to add you. You might be surprised by how many people will do so.

Connect with your online classmates on social media

Once you’ve established a connection with a few classmates, it’s normal to add them on social media. If you’re unsure if it’s appropriate or not, simply invite others to connect with you and let them make the next move.

Once you’ve added each other, you can look through a few of their recent posts and like or comment on them if it’s anything you can relate to. You can also try writing them a short message to ask about a recent class assignment or local campus event. It’s also good to share a bit about how you feel. For example, “I’m so nervous about next week’s exam. How are you feeling about it?”

Avoid being too overbearing or demanding. If they are short in their replies, it can be wise to take a step back and give them some space. (Unless they’re being short because they’re shy.) And if they’re writing you a longer reply, you know they’re also interested in exploring a friendship with you. Reciprocate with a reply that’s about equal in length and content.

Meet up with your nearby online classmates in real life

Meeting up in real life is important to help transition your relationship into a real friendship.

In a big online class, there are usually at least a few people in your city. Make an effort to connect with these people. It’s natural to suggest meeting up for a coffee after class. You can often use your internal class discussion board for this.

If you want to read more about making friends online, we write about common mistakes in online communication and more in our guide here.

Part 2: Making Friends on Campus

Be where people are

It can be tempting to spend all your time in your dorm room or in your off-campus apartment. However, try finding ways to be in places where others are, even if it feels a bit uncomfortable. This means taking trips to the cafeteria, library, lounge area, campus pub, club meetings, or an on-campus workplace.

If you don’t want to go to these places alone, invite your roommate or a classmate, or be brave and introduce yourself to someone you know from class so you can find out more about each other.

Take the initiative — invite people to lunch, study, or 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? My favorite band is playing.” or “I was thinking of going to the football game this weekend. Are you going?”

These simple inquiries 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.

Say yes to most invitations

Great job! All the work you’ve put in is paying off! An acquaintance is asking you to an event now. I know you’re nearly exhausted from the effort, but whenever you can, 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. But if you say “yes,” more invitations will come your way. Say “no” too regularly, and you might not get a second invite.

Get an on-campus job

This can be the holy grail of easy ways to make friends at school. You’re likely to have lots in common with your workmates. You probably all experience school stress, living away from home for the first time, and learning how to make it on your own …

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

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

Talk in class and make plans to do things afterward

Talk to your neighbors in class, like the person who made a comment that you agree with or the person who asked you for a pen. Any small interaction is an icebreaker, 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 your attitude easygoing and positive. Try making observations about what’s going on around you, like the workload or a question you have about the subject. Then when you get a few responses, suggest a group chat, a study session for midterms, or lunch or dinner if it’s convenient or you live close together.

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 silly or fun activity. 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.

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 family and fill your emotional tank. Allow yourself to just be by yourself. Perhaps that means playing video games alone on some nights. Whatever helps you recharge, you definitely should do it. 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.

Connect with outgoing people

Go in search of outgoing people, even if they intimidate you. Dare to be friendly toward them, and they will likely be friendly back.[1] 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.

Avoid canceling plans

You may not feel like it, or maybe you’re not up for the initial awkwardness, but seriously, someone put their ego on the line to invite you somewhere. You don’t have to stay for the whole night or compromise your emotional health, but honor your commitments by showing up and showing you care.

Keep snacks in your room

Everyone loves the snack person. A well-stocked drawer of chips, chocolate, gummies, drinks, veggies, or gluten-free snacks is 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.

Go to parties or other social events

This is the traditional approach. It tends to work best when you have a wingman or woman with you. Wingmen and women are not only great for romantic adventures (but that’s OK too). They help you find someone to talk to as you push through the crowd, hold up the bar, or claim a few seats.

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. It’s low stress and there are activities you can do while you’re there like watch the game or play pub trivia or billiards. As you’re having fun, people will be thinking of other ways to get together again.

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 hang out with friends they think you might like, too.

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 first six months of college.

It takes time to build close friendships. Here are how many hours of socializing needed to become close friends with someone according to one study:

  • Acquaintance to casual friend: 50 hours
  • Casual friend to friend: 40 hours
  • Friend to close friend: 110 hours[3]

Considering how much time is needed to create a close friendship, it’s important to consider what’s needed for someone to actually want to spend that much time with someone else.

Part 3: Forming Connections with Peers

Give others your full attention when making conversation

Being attentive will make you both a better friend and classmate.[2] Here are three ways to be more attentive.

Listen before you speak. Focus on listening rather than talking. Put aside what you want to say for the moment. If you forget it, that’s OK. Focus all your attention on what they are saying rather than formulating your answer.

Aim to learn something while you listen. Learning is intentional and requires you to sort through what’s being said and process it. Actively listening shows people that you care.

Pay attention to the emotion behind the words. If you ask someone how their day has been, “good” can mean different things depending on the intonation. Paying attention to tone and facial expressions will help you respond appropriately.

Check their body language too. The meaning of their message may not be in their words or vocal tone but in the way they hold or move their body.

Respond mindfully. How you respond counts too. Your responses are part of this two-way communication. Try to keep an open mind, and even if you disagree with what you hear, always be respectful.

First, summarize what you’ve heard. Say something like, “Tell me if I understand you correctly. Do you mean … ?” Ask open-ended questions. Guide the conversation by asking questions that require more than a yes or no answer. This allows them to expand on their ideas or issues and helps you fully understand things you might have misunderstood originally.

Then ask detail-oriented questions like “Can you tell me more about how that will work?” or “What are the resources you need to get it done?”

Responding mindfully helps you walk through the solution with them and assist them on the way.

Make small talk, even if you might not always feel like it

Talking to new people can be hard. Sometimes you need to push yourself to interact. Many people don’t see the purpose of small talk. They may feel like it’s shallow and superficial. But small talk is 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 professor. If you live off-campus, talk to your classmates, join clubs, or get a job on campus. Make sure that you spend lots of time interacting with people you want to become friends with. That allows close friendships to form.[3]

Here’s more on how to start conversations.

Keep an open body language

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, breathe out and relax your forehead. Smiling when you don’t feel it may seem fake to you, but practicing positivity with your body language will help you feel better in the long run. Lastly, keep your arms by your sides 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.

Be a good listener

Some people talk when they’re nervous. If you’re one of them, brush up on your listening skills. Active listening is the number one quality of a true friend. That being said, you also want to contribute to the conversation so it is appropriately balanced and your friend is 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, perhaps indicating when you’ve had a similar experience or reacting to how they must have felt during their story.

Be interested in everyone as a potential friend

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

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. The first few semesters are stressful, but you’re doing it, and every day gets easier. Save your “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.

Avoid judging people too quickly

You know that old adage about dating: go out with someone three 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.

Know that it only takes one friend to break the drought

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 are having the same struggle finding and forming their friend groups. It will happen.

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 improve your social skills because you have so many opportunities to practice. Here’s how to improve your people skills.

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

Part 4: Socializing in College if You Have Social Anxiety

Social anxiety

Here are several tips to help you get started making friends if you have social anxiety.

Mindsets that can help you manage your social anxiety

Know that most people are preoccupied with their own thoughts

It might feel like people scrutinize you and maybe even judge you. This is called The Spotlight Effect. In reality, most people are preoccupied with their own thoughts and worrying about how they themselves come off. It can be comforting to simply remind yourself of this fact when you feel self-conscious.

Know that most people can’t tell how you’re feeling

We tend to assume that others will notice if we feel nervous. This is called The Illusion of Transparency. In reality, most people can’t tell how you’re feeling. Remind yourself that even if you feel nervous, it isn’t likely that anyone else will notice.4

Avoid making assumptions about what people think of you

Sometimes, it can feel like people will judge us or think bad of us. This is sometimes called mindreading. If you make assumptions about what people think of you, remind yourself that that’s what it is; assumptions. In reality, people might have neutral or positive thoughts about you—or they might be preoccupied thinking about something else.5

Replace worst-case scenarios with more realistic ones

Do you ever catch yourself thinking about worst-case scenarios before social events? This could be things like “I won’t come up with anything to say and everyone will think I’m weird”, or “I will blush and everyone will look at me funny”, or “I will be all by myself”. These types of thoughts are sometimes called fortune-telling. If you catch yourself worrying about worst-case scenarios, think about what a more realistic outcome could be.5

Observe your feelings rather than trying to change them

Feelings such as anxiety are like clouds; we can see them and they may impact our day but we can’t control when they come or when they go, we can simply observe them. Trying to force a feeling to go away often makes it hang around longer. Remind yourself that you can act even if you feel anxious.7

Practical advice to make friends when you have social anxiety

Look for places where you can find like-minded

Join a campus club, group, or association where you share an interest with the other members. It’s easier to talk when you can focus on something specific rather than just “making conversation.” The best (and sometimes only) time to join a club is at the beginning of the Fall semester. Campuses are much like musical chairs – once September ends it seems like the music has stopped and everyone found their chair. Find three options that will keep you busy throughout the semester.

Adopt friendly habits

With social anxiety, it’s natural to want to hide or avoid social interaction, but this can make you seem unfriendly or stiff. To counteract this, you can try relaxing your face, smiling, and seeking eye contact.

Be curious about people

Focus your attention on the content and intention of what the other person is saying. Doing so can help you feel less anxious since you won’t be as preoccupied with your own anxiety.

Practice conversation by asking about current campus events

You can find inspiration by reading your local campus newspaper or message board. Some other easy conversation topics can be study strategies, recent class assignments, and other local happenings on your campus. Talk to people who have similar classes, dorm room assignments, or schedules. This tends to be easier than talking to someone you’ve only seen once or twice.

Prepare and practice conversation

When you go to a social event, make sure to have at least one actual conversation. You can practice a few small talk questions to have in mind before you go. Pushing yourself to interact like this is effective for improving social anxiety.6

Visit a counselor

Look up your campus mental health resources or counseling department. Social anxiety is common, and your local counselors are there to help you. These are typically called CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) and most now have not only short term individual counseling but also support groups and therapy groups. More and more are providing online groups.

Look beyond your campus

Volunteer, work part-time, or maybe even find a therapist close to campus. For some, having everything attached to campus life can feel suffocating, and also having activities off-campus can give you a more fulfilling social life.

More resources for socially anxious people

Collaborating Authors

Rob Danzman, NCC, LPC, LMHC

Rob Danzman specializes in working with Indiana University students struggling with depression, anxiety, organization skills, and motivation issues. Learn more.

Alexander R. Daros, Ph.D., C.Psych.

Alexander R. Daros works on issues related to depressive and anxiety disorders, eating and body image concerns, emotion regulation difficulties, academic and workplace stress, relationship difficulties, identifying as LGBTQ, trauma, anger, and grief. Learn more.

Krystal M. Lewis, Ph.D.

Krystal M. Lewis is a licensed clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health. Learn more.

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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