If you’re like most incoming college freshmen, it’s been a while since you started from scratch and made new friends. Rest assured: almost everyone’s in the same position as you. The classic rules to making new friends certainly apply—be open-minded, friendly, and make sure to smile! But you can also use the unique social situations on college campuses to your advantage by joining student groups and meeting people who share your major. Remember that it takes time to settle into campus life, and the students you meet during orientation probably won’t comprise your friend group for the next four years. We asked the experts about what you should keep in mind as you meet your classmates.
Look for friends with common interests.
“Figure out what you like and want to achieve at college; after that, seek out the communities involved in those kinds of activities and have similar values,” says Kelci Lucier, an education writer for About.com and US News & World Report. “You can meet people through a sports team, club, and your major’s department. Head to programs, speakers, or events. If your community doesn’t exist, go ahead and make one! College campuses are always open to new groups—chances are, if you’re feeling a lack of community around something, other students are too.”
Aim for variety.
“One nice thing about college is that you can have different friends who play different roles in your life,” says Lucier. “You can have your studious friends with whom you know you can cram for a midterm and as well as more social friends with whom you know you can go out with on weekends.”
Step outside of your comfort zone.
“Stay open to meeting new friends, even if you already know people from high school going to your college,” says Jenny Blake, author of Life After College. “Challenge yourself. Think about the quote, ‘do one thing each day that scares you.’ Talk to one new person each day and try to expand beyond that initial comfort zone of a clique.”
Try to avoid cliques.
“Cliques in college are very different from high school,” says Lucier. “Because people travel in so many different circles—for example, people who live in your residence hall, chemistry majors, students in the organic farming club—cliques in college are pretty fluid. So, it’s important to always be open to meeting new people. Each semester will bring changes to the groups you belong to, so you’ll always have a chance to break out and meet new people if you feel stuck. The challenge is really figuring out which community to join, not finding one!”
Prioritize quality over quantity.
“There’s a window when new students will be much more open to connections, and that window stays open for about the first six weeks of school,” says Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. “There are positives and negatives to that. The good part is that you can connect easily and quickly with a lot of people. The bad part is you can go overboard and read too much into the connections you’re making.”
Don’t be afraid to distance yourself.
“You may wake up one day and ask, what am I doing with these people? This is not me,” says Simmons. “It’s important to spin that in a positive way. It means that you’re getting more confident about your life at college and what you want. That’s exciting! It doesn’t mean that everything’s a mess. You don’t want to burn any bridges, but it’s important to start scheduling time to be in situations without those friends. If you’re in a pack of friends, you probably don’t look like someone who wants to make new ones.”
Realize that some of your friendships are fleeting.
“It’s important to remember that some friendships may last, and others may not, and that’s totally normal,” says Simmons. “You’re in a new place, and you’re going to get overwhelmed by a very large social community. It takes time to find your tribe. It doesn’t mean you’re bad at making friends.”