How To Be More Social In College (Even If You’re Shy)

“I recently started college. I’m still working part-time and living at home to save money. I am a little shy and have had a hard time making friends in my classes. I’m wondering if it’s possible to make friends and develop a social life in college even when you live off-campus?”

Many people assume that making friends in college will be easy, but this isn’t always the case. Approaching people, starting conversations, and asking people to hang out comes naturally to people who are more outgoing but can be really hard for an introvert or someone with social anxiety. Students who commute, live, or work off-campus may have a harder time building their social lives and integrating into life on campus.

Making friends is an important part of the college experience. In fact, research shows that making friends in the first year makes people more likely to still be enrolled the next year and is linked to an overall more successful adjustment to college life.[1][2]

Here are 10 ways to widen your social network, improve your social life, and make friends in college.

1. Prioritize your social life early on

By the third week in college, most new students report having some success with meeting people and starting to make new friends, so don’t put your social life on the back burner when you start college.[3] Start early by making conversation and small talk with people you see on campus, in your classes, and in your dorm. With practice, you’ll become more confident around others.

There are several advantages that can come from working early on in college to make new friends, including:[1][2]

  • You will meet other new students who are eager to make friends
  • Cliques haven’t formed yet, making it easier to form groups of friends
  • Meeting other new students can help you adjust more easily to college life
  • Spending time with other people can help relieve feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and homesickness that are common when you start college

2. Speak up in class

Another great way to be more social in college is to make yourself known to your classmates by raising your hand and speaking up in your classes. This will help people feel more familiar with you and will also make it easier to initiate a conversation with them outside of class.

Speaking up in your classes is also a great way to form good relationships with your professors, which is another important part of successfully adjusting to college life.[2]

3. Make the first move

Because most people struggle with some form of social anxiety, it can be hard for people to make the first move to approach each other and start a conversation. The best way to ensure that someone makes the first move is to take the initiative instead of waiting for the other person to act.

Here are some easy ways to make the first move to approach people and make friends in college:

  • Introduce yourself and ask them where they are from
  • Pay them a compliment and use this to start a conversation
  • Ask a classmate a question about an assignment
  • After speaking, ask for their number or add them on social media
  • Follow up with a text saying hi or asking if they want to grab lunch or study sometime

4. Find smaller groups

If you are attending a smaller college, you may have an easier time making friends than if you attend a large university. If you are attending a larger school, you may want to break off and find ways to interact in smaller groups where it’s easier to spark up conversations and get to know people better.

Some ideas for ways to have chances for smaller group interactions include:

  • Getting involved in a sports or exercise group on campus
  • Joining a fraternity, sorority, or club on campus
  • Attending events on campus
  • Joining a study group

5. Spend more time on campus

Attending events, meetups, or activities on-campus is another great way to meet people and make friends in college. Even studying in public areas of campus or spending time in the library, gym, or other common areas provides more opportunities to meet other students. This can be especially important if you commute or aren’t living on-campus because you have fewer natural opportunities to meet people.[1][2]

6. Be approachable

If you can work on being approachable, you will probably have an easier time making friends in college. People who are friendly and approachable often have to put less effort into making friends because they make it easy for people to come to them.

Here are some ways to be more approachable and attract friends in college:[4]

  • Smile and greet people by name when you see them
  • Start small talk with people you know from classes or other activities
  • Ask questions and show interest in other people when they talk about themselves
  • Put your phone down and make eye contact to show attentiveness
  • Hang out in public or common areas to study
  • Say yes when people invite you out or ask to hang out
  • Leave the door of your dorm room open and say “Hi” to anyone who walks by
  • If you have a roommate, make a special effort to befriend them in the early days; your college experience will be much more fun if you can get on well with the people you live with

7. Use social media wisely

Research can be a great tool to connect with people in college but can also backfire if it’s overused. In fact, research shows there is a strong correlation between heavy social media use and loneliness, depression, and low self-esteem.[5] While you can use social media to stay connected with new friends in college, it’s also important to know how and when to unplug.

Here are some ways to use social media wisely:

  • Use social media to stay updated on events and to make plans to see friends or groups of friends
  • Don’t use devices when you’re spending quality time with friends (e.g., when you’re out to dinner with friends or having a 1:1 conversation)
  • Limit your social media use if you find it’s negatively impacting your mood, self-esteem, or making you feel lonelier
  • Don’t substitute social media for real-life social interaction

8. Include others in your existing plans

Informal and last-minute plans are one of the hallmarks of college life, so don’t hesitate to text, call, or knock on someone’s door to see if they want to join you to eat, study, or exercise. The more often you interact with someone, the more likely you are to develop a close friendship with them, so these everyday activities can be a great way to make new friends without needing to sacrifice activities on your to-do list.[1][3]

9. Send clear signals to like-minded people

When you meet someone who you have a lot in common with, make an effort to show interest and send clear signs that you want to be friends. Because it’s easiest to form friendships with people who are similar to you, targeting like-minded people is the most likely to lead to rewarding friendships.[1]

Here are some ways to send friendly signals to people who you have a lot in common with:[5]

  • Make a point to greet and talk with them when you see them in class or on campus
  • Remember small details they tell you (e.g., where they’re from, what they like, etc.)
  • Ask if they have plans over the weekend or what they like to do in their free time
  • Text or call them to check in or try to make plans

10. Maintain your friendships

Putting all of your efforts into making friends but not investing in friendships you’ve developed is an obvious but common mistake people make when trying to make friends. Remember to maintain your close friendships by:

  • Staying in touch via text, social media, and phone calls to avoid growing apart
  • Show up to support or help a friend in need
  • Don’t let other priorities or relationships get in the way of seeing your friends
  • Go deeper in conversations and avoid sticking to small talk with friends

Be patient; it takes time to become close friends with someone.

Final thoughts on being more social in college

Making friends makes the adjustment to college easier and is linked to higher academic success and also a higher likelihood of continued enrollment. For all of these reasons, you should make your social life a priority in college. Getting out more and attending events, spending time on-campus, starting conversations, and making plans to hang out is also important to develop real friendships instead of casual acquaintances in college.

Common questions about how to be more social in college

Does college make you more social?

Without making your social life a priority, college will not automatically make a person more social. People who become more social in college often have made an effort to meet people, make friends, start conversations, and spend time socializing.

Will I automatically make friends in college?

Not everyone automatically or easily makes friends in college. People who live off-campus, attend online classes, or are shy often need to put more time and effort into making friends in college.

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Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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