Making friends halfway through college?
August 31, 2014 12:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm a college junior who has had trouble making many friends, help?

In my freshman year I didn't leave my room at all so I never met anyone through any means, but in my sophomore year I joined some groups, most of which I quit after a while through lack of interest but some of which I'm still a part of. Unfortunately I haven't met too many people outside of clubs, and almost all the people I've gotten close to are now studying abroad (a pretty large number of them are doing this) or have graduated this past spring.

So now I'm sitting in my room, wondering what I can do next because I haven't met that one person who I would be sharing-secrets-close with. I'm sure I misplayed things by not doing anything freshman year, and there are a few new clubs that I want to try but I don't think I have the skill to get past their auditions. So what can I do at this point?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Join something. Join a thing. There are lots of things to join in college.
posted by chrchr at 12:26 AM on August 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

Well, on the bright side, people studying abroad will be back soon. It's ok not to meet THAT ONE COLLEGE BEST FRIEND. I didn't really have one either, and honestly, I'm a lot closer to some of my college friends now that we've all been scattered around for 2 years.

On the other hand, do you talk to other students in your classes? I met one of my good friends that way. It was a ridiculous visual arts class that was about making contemporary/representative art (I can't tell you what I learned in that class) than art history. We ended up spending a lot of time in the studio just working on our own projects and chatting that way. She was one of two friends from college who put the effort to find the time and money to visit me out in Hong Kong after I moved here after college.

Are you in any way athletically inclined or at least have an inkling of a desire to be more active? Your school will probably have some pretty out there sports (mine had quidditch and a ton of martial arts I'd never heard of until college) that will have a lot of beginners or at least teams that are really tolerant of beginners. I joined my university's ice hockey team my freshman year without even know how to skate and met another good friend that way.

As someone who learned this very recently, you really shouldn't be afraid to put yourself out there. You may not realize it but you're most likely an interesting person. Unless you talk or meet other people, no one else will know that you're interesting so the cycle perpetuates.
posted by astapasta24 at 12:26 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

If randomly striking up a conversation with a classmate seems too intimidating, I'd suggest setting up or joining a study group. I met a lot of people this way while in college. It's a low pressure way to hang out with the people in your class, and you may bond over the long hours spent together, particularly if you include study breaks!
posted by Blissful at 12:45 AM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here are a few random things you may or may not have tried:

- Hang out in public spaces where you're likely to run into acquaintances so that you can have more personal contact with people who could turn out to be friends.
- Show more interest in other people, and express admiration/praise more.
- When someone tells you about something they're going to do, say how cool it sounds and ask how people get involved in that. At a minimum, they're pleased by your interest and tell you how to get involved in it. But maybe they also accept the hint and invite you.
- Accept more invitations.
- Attend more events. They're opportunities to run into acquaintances, tend to be more reasonable conversation fodder than private activities are, and give you readymade ideas about what to invite an acquaintance to do.

If any of this sounds hard or frustrating, consider finding a board gaming group. Clubs and hobbies are great in general, but hobby board gaming in particular works in all seasons, sets up structured personal interactions that require less social improvisation, and creates a constant demand for new players. They're perfect for people who find breaking the ice to be challenging, and in my experience, once it's known that you play games, the hard thing is turning down invitations.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:52 AM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]


You have a major by now, right? Find out when the department undergraduate group meets next, attend the meeting, and volunteer for something.

re: clubs -- You should still audition for those clubs so your name is more familiar to the e-board next year.

Get a campus job. Chopping vegetables for the cafeteria salad bar is probably better than solitary research work, but joining a lab might be even better than salad ingredient chopping.

It's rough, though, I hear you. Most of my friends were in the year above me, so when senior year came, I felt pretty bereft. Since I was leaving anyway, I instead really started getting to know the city where my campus was -- I don't regret that.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:09 AM on August 31, 2014

Seconding M. Caution on the board games. If there isn't a specific group on campus, you could try checking out events held at local board gaming stores. The "structured personal interaction" part is so true - I'm pretty reserved normally, but board gaming helps me loosen up a little around new people since we're interacting in such defined ways within the game. People are usually excited to teach their favorite games to new players, and game store "open game nights" and other events are typically really low-commitment - if you go to one but then you're busy for a couple weeks, there's not going to be any stress like there might be in a more group or club type organization.

Also, don't feel like you have to put tons of pressure on finding the one Best College Friend. For me, my college friendships were different from high school in that aspect, and I think it was really good for me. In high school I had a couple super-close friends, and we were constantly over at each other's houses, sleeping over, having dinner with each other's families, etc. In college, I was friends with more different people, and I wouldn't say there was any person I'd describe as super-close in that high school way. I value those friendships a ton and had a lot of great experiences, but currently (10-ish years later) I'm only in touch with about two of those friends on a regular basis.

My closest current friends are actually still my best high school friend (and through her, her husband) and a college friend/ex-roommate who happens to live a few blocks from me. I've actually recently gotten back in touch with some people who live nearby who I knew during college, but who I wasn't really close to - over the past few months, we started doing brunch meet ups which turned into regular dinner and movie nights, and now I'd consider them some of my closest friends too. Which is mostly to say, college can provide lots of great opportunities socially, but it also doesn't define your social life from graduation on. You have a lot of time left to meet new people and reconnect with your friends who are abroad when they get back. I think you'll be surprised where friendships can spring up from, even in your junior and senior years (and beyond)!
posted by augustimagination at 1:44 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Be the one who initiates. LOTS of people want everyone else to make the first move. Very few people want to do it, so you end up with a lot of potential connections going unformed. Given that there are so many people out there looking for a friend, it won't be long before you hit on someone who appreciates your showing an interest in them and saving them from the terrible, awful thing* that is being rejected by someone.

If you're somewhere where there are literally no people to meet, as in you're working in total solitude, can you move to somewhere where there are people? You'll massively increase your chances of making friends if you do this. Smile and nod to people you know in passing, or say hi to them if you get the opportunity. If you're stuck for a topic to talk about, try the weather. If that person is local, they have to suffer (or enjoy) it the same as you do.

If it means doing something that doesn't interest you that much, then do that thing for an hour a week and see it as the cost of making new friends. Get chatty with people and see if they fancy getting a coffee or doing other-tangentially-related-thing sometime. If not, just go on to the next person. Smiling and showing an interest is about 60% of the game.

*totally not really!
posted by Solomon at 2:16 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I struggled with this kind of thing a lot at university.

All of my long term friends I got to know as house mates first. I lived in many different shared houses, with different groups of people, and some of them turned into good friends. I am not in contact with anybody who I met through class or societies now.

I tried the whole societies/clubs thing, but never managed to stick with most of them. The thing that worked the best, is the thing I started just before I finished uni - volunteering. This had a totally different feel to the usual clubs, and the work was enough to keep me going regardless.

I stress that many years later, I don't have a stay-up-to-midnight-on-the-phone kind of friend. I have adapted to getting my social fulfilment from volunteering in lots of different groups so there is always someone to talk to, together with maybe a few times a year getting together with my long term friends who don't live nearby.

Summary: what can you do? fill all your spare time with volunteering, doing things that interest you, and maybe try things that don't.
posted by Sinadoxa at 2:38 AM on August 31, 2014

Just want to toss in -- I got to know many of my best friends in college (and for the subsequent 14 years) my last year. It's not too late! Activities are great, or latch into one acquaintance's social circle. It can work -- college is a free flowing atmosphere with social circles growing and shrinking all the time.
posted by rdn at 4:46 AM on August 31, 2014

I didn't really make friends with anyone freshman year. I found it difficult to meet people in classes, and I was too shy to start a study group or anything like that. No one ever invited me to one, either. I sort of got the feeling that study groups were the kind of thing that only happened in the movies.

Run for an executive board position in a club you like. That was how I made friends in college. The weekly executive board meetings and occasional club events (which you will be busy planning and/or running) help you get to know people. I never met new friends at events I was just attending, or at work, or as roommates. I needed the sustained commitment and interaction that the club provided. Also, it's more fun than sitting in your room. I'm a recent graduate, and I miss being as involved and busy as I was in college.

The people I knew in college who had lots of friends were essentially good salesmen. They knew how to sell themselves as a product - "the cool drinking buddy," or "the fun boardgaming partner," or "the good music recommend-er." They tended to set up "office hours" in a public place and tell people that they would be there, doing homework. I never felt comfortable doing that sort of thing, but it totally worked for them.

Honestly, though, I never made the sort of close friends I had in high school while I was in college. Even with my massive club involvement, I found college to be very lonely overall - when I moved back home after college and reconnected with a couple of my old high school friends, it was really exciting because I had gone four whole years without having a decent small outing + long conversation with someone my own age. After college, I also reconnected with a couple of my old college club friends who graduated a few years ago, and I'm much closer with them now than I was when we were in school together. College is really hard and stressful, and some people just do better socially when they're not struggling, I think.
posted by topoisomerase at 6:07 AM on August 31, 2014

The adjustment to college is rough. I feel like a lot of people get sold a bill of goods...we're all told that college is supposed to be the best time of our lives. For many, it's not. You're living alone for the first time, which no one teaches you how to do. The friends that you've known from childhood are elsewhere. There isn't a guidebook that lets you know how to navigate that. Consequently, many struggle. Also, a lot of the people who seem to be doing well are just faking it until they make it. You're probably doing a better job than you think you are.

I'm also wondering if there's something emotionally going on. Making a major life change usually comes along with some sadness, numbness, and anxiety. The fact that you didn't leave your room often your first year and then had a hard time maintaining interest in things the second makes me wonder if going to your university's counseling center for a session or two to just to hash things out might not be a bad idea. Counseling isn't just for people with major life problems. Sometimes it's helpful to go just to get a handle on where you're at and figure out next steps to get where you want to go. It's free for the next couple of years...why not?
posted by batbat at 6:33 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I broke up with my boyfriend (since the first week of freshman year) halfway through my junior year. He kept all our mutual friends, so I started from just about zero. It was crappy on just about all fronts, and while I never ended up with a Best Friend for the rest of my time there, I really expanded my social circle

The three places I found the most friends after that were:

1. My major, and to a lesser extent language classes.
I was an anthropology major. I got really active in the activities at the major. I started going to all the department talks. I met some of the graduate students. I joined the undergraduate anthropology honorary. I hung out with some of the people in my seminar. This was nice because, though I'm not particularly close with any of those people anymore, it was wonderful to have friendly faces in the classes I was most interested in, and other people with similar interests who wouldn't mind chatting about Bourdieu or primate ecology with. Snag people for meals or coffee after class, sit next to the same people on a regular basis, ask someone if they want to go over notes before an exam, etc.

My Swahili classes were small and we all got to know each other quickly because of how much interaction there was. Take a language - maybe from a smaller program than French or Spanish. Because of the conversational nature of language classes, it's a good way to break the ice with other people and you have all sorts of natural things to do outside of class. We would go to any African oriented things on campus together, out for Ethiopian or Tanzanian food, and of course get together and study.

2. Social dance
I got really active in the lindy hop group on campus, which was full of nerdy and wonderful people. We had weekly practices, monthly on-campus dances, and weekly dances in the broader community, and we'd roadtrip to close-ish cities for big dance workshops and exchanges. Nearly any university will have a swing, salsa, tango, contra, bhangra or other dance organization, and they will all hold lessons and be used to having beginners come. It's also a great way to get to know people who aren't associated with your university.

3. Hanging out off campus
Because of all the swing dance I was doing with regular St. Louisians, I got to know a lot of them, and got invited to do all sorts of interesting things around town. And I made a point of escaping the campus bubble. I was a regular at a coffee shop about three miles from campus. I volunteered at an organization off campus. Being off campus didn't really help me build up a huge social circle, but it was a really wonderful way to gain perspective and realize that my 4 years as an undergrad were not going to make or break my life in the giant scheme of things.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:11 AM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, clubs are always inundated with new freshmen who have no idea what's going on at this point in time, and the beginning of the semester is the PERFECT time to pick up something new because they all have recruitment events and workshops and training if it's some sort of skill-based club.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:12 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding ChuraChura's advice about dance groups. About half my friends at school are from ballroom dance. If you're worried about how well you dance, I'd encourage you to give it a shot anyway. Like ChuraChura said, a bunch of freshmen will also be learning to dance along with you and it's always a treat to meet a junior instead of another freshman. They're inherently social and you'll improve really quickly if you stick it out, so maybe go to three or four classes before you decide?

There should also be big groups somewhere without auditions, where people will teach you the ropes. Fencing? Baking club? Game development?

Other than that, if you have trouble making friends in classes, language classes are good, but in my experience small history/anthropology classes or classes with discussions are better because you're not puzzling through a new language and trying to get a good grade and trying to be personable all at once. If you can't take these sorts of classes, there always seems to be engineering study groups/competitions going on at my school. Try those with people you haven't met before.
posted by clarinet at 7:55 AM on August 31, 2014

Volunteer for something that involves working with the same group of people over a relatively long period of time.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:30 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'll nth getting involved with a beginner language class, especially something slightly more obscure, like Russian, German, Japanese, etc. The classes are small, and there's a lot of interaction, often of a more casual nature. Plus, there are usually corresponding clubs to get involved in that celebrate the language and culture. If you have any interest in Classical Studies, you could look into taking Latin or Ancient Greek. Classics nerds love hanging out together, at least in my experience as someone who took 4 years of Latin.

Are you a decent copy editor? Proofreading for the student newspaper is another good option which includes a lot of interaction with other members.

The suggestion to take on some kind of work study job is also a good one. And even if you don't make friends, at least you'll have more money! (Unless you're already working, of course.)

You might get more targeted advice if you gave some more specific information about your talents/areas of interest and what you have tried already.

Alternatively, it might help to reframe your thinking a bit on this one. I think the myth of the BFF who you share everything with and stay up until 4 am talking to overblown. I loved college, and I feel like I had a really good circle of friends that I was close to for all four years, but the whole idea of that "best friend" that you see in teen movies has just never rung true for me.

Along these same lines, maybe it would help if you take the pressure off of yourself to find a lot of friends. This could be a good time to focus on pursuing some particularly difficult classes in your major or applying for an internship in your field of interest. I'm not saying you should isolate yourself completely, but the last two years of college are also the time when it starts to become more important to focus on what will come after graduation, and you might find it's helpful to see that as an alternate outlet.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:42 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of good suggestions here. I just want to let you know that you are definitely not alone in this. Lots of people feel lonely in college, and also feel disappointed because they believe making friends is supposed to be easy or they think everybody else has tons of friends. But look - just are just some of the questions we've had here about making friends in college. It takes effort and luck to meet compatible friends, even in college, and even then a lot of the friends you make will be hang-out friends rather than sharing-secrets-best-friends. You can do it, just don't get down feeling like it should have happened by now or should happen automatically. Lots of people have the same difficulty, you just can't tell from the outside what they are feeling on the inside, or how much time they're spending alone, or whether they feel like the people they're hanging out with are just friends or sharing-secrets friends.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:30 AM on August 31, 2014

I found that every term and every class was a fresh opportunity to make friends. Suggest a study group, chit-chat with the person sitting next to you before class.

Join an intramural sport, or a new club, join a faith group all of these are a good place to make connections.

Get a part-time job that's connected to school in some way. Be a server at a restaurant or tend bar, or even flip burgers, I've always met folks at work and chances are some of them will also be students.

Attend floor meetings, hang out in the TV room or knock on doors and introduce yourself around to other folks. "Hey, want to share a pizza?" That always worked on me!

Go to Frat parties.

Sure, sometimes you feel like the odd person out, and sometimes you have an amazing time!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:10 AM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

The core of my social group is people I met junior year of college.

Assuming you still live in the dorms, just step outside your room and talk to someone. Anyone. Just throw yourself into a social group, even if it seems awkward at first.

When I met the people who are now, a decade later, practically family to me, I wasn't sure I really belonged. Wasn't sure they liked me. Wasn't sure we had a ton in common. But I just kept putting in the time. Someone is doing a thing? Go. Someone is hanging out in the common room? You do it, too. Someone is really into watching a TV show you only sort of like? Watch with them. Someone initiates a tiresome debate about the political issues of the day? Engage. Whatever. Even sitting around over beers and griping about the situation in Ukraine is bonding with other human beings.

Obviously, you want these new activity partners to be people you have something in common with. But assuming you're not entirely out of place at your school, and that there are people around who like the same bands you like, agree with you about things that are important to you, have a similar outlook on life, etc. just go along.

To be honest, there are a lot of people I'm incredibly close to a decade later who I didn't get along with at all in college, or who I thought were silly and wrong, or who were at the periphery of my social circle.

Just show up and you will make friends no problem.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 PM on August 31, 2014

One of the best things about trying to meet people in college is that every year a brand new crop of people come in looking to make new friends. Take advantage of all the start of year things going on.
posted by advicepig at 9:03 AM on September 2, 2014

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