How to Cultivate Friendships in College
Moving to college is disruptive. The context of your life changes in an instant, and your old friendships take on different roles. You make new friends and find new interests.
And, if you begin college knowing no one, you face the very real possibility that you’ll have to face eating lunch alone. Cultivate friendships early on by reaching out, being there for people, and opening yourself up to new and exciting things.
Maintain Old Friendships, But Prioritize New Ones
That advice sounds a bit heartless, but the critical element is living deeply in your new circumstances. You want to stay in touch with your roots, both for support and comfort in the moment and because you should preserve important relationships for the long run.
Your high school friends will understand when you focus your time on your new college life.
Don’t spend too much time heading home for weekends or miss too many evenings in your dorm for Skype calls home. Fit communication with old friends into phone calls during walks to class, or through quick, less-disruptive chats when you’re between one thing and another. Prioritize living in your college context.
This is common advice because it’s good advice. Sign up for things. Get excited about the opportunities and people around you. Find common ground on ideas and activities that you’ve never explored before. Or pursue something that was a passion in high school, and leverage those skills into your new college context.
The great thing about groups in college is that you can sign up for as many as you want, and just as easily choose to opt out. Go to the first two meetings of several different groups. See how you feel about the experience and the people.
If you click, then you have an instant and easy connection with cool people. If you don’t, then leave and look elsewhere.
Especially if you live in the dorms, you are sharing a cafeteria with hundreds of other students who are also looking for friends. Ask the other people in your dorm and classes if they want to get lunch or grab a coffee. Even if it feels awkward at first, shared meals are an easy opportunity to socialize.
Resist the urge to retreat to your room with a sandwich if you’re feeling uncomfortable and alone. If you recognize someone in the dining room, ask if you can join them for the meal. Most of the time—the vast majority of the time—the answer will be yes.
Note: It is also important to know yourself with this rule. For example, I am not a morning person, and need the space to wake up and get my day started. So I used to eat cereal by myself every weekday morning. I would talk to no one and engage with as little as possible. That “me time” didn’t feel lonely—it felt like preparation. Give yourself the space you need to launch your day.
As new friendships emerge, nurture routine and shared activities. Some of my deepest friendships grew from nightly TV watching in the freshman-year dorms. (Every night we gathered for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.)
I have other friendships which developed around taking walks, regularly meeting at a specific coffee shop, or signing up for PE classes together. Routines serve as touchstones in relationships. These are not permanent, unchangeable patterns, but they do make it easier to casually meet up and relax together.
Show Genuine Interest in Others’ Passions
This is the big one. Pay attention to what people care about. Maybe you care about the same things—maybe this friend is in your same major and interested in the same music and sports. But maybe you have different passions. That’s fine. You do not have to have the same major as your best friend. But you should make an honest effort to care about and support their passions, and ask the same from them.
If they are attending a campus event you are interested in, go with them. This sounds simple, but it can make a huge difference in deepening a relationship. This is particularly important if your friends are involved in organizing events. Show up. Be supportive. And honestly express your interest. This is the biggest opportunity in college: To be surrounded by others who are engaged with a whole range of topics and are pursuing passions different from your own.
I was part of a group of eight best friends in college. We met in the dorms, and were still incredibly close when we graduated. None of us had the same major. I am so grateful for everything I learned because of them, as well as for the great times we had together.
The thing to focus on during your early days on campus is that everyone is arriving to school at the same time, and everyone will be looking for friends.
As time goes on in college, you will be exposed to a new set of people in each semester’s classes and in each new opportunity, group, travel opportunity, or skill you pursue. Get out into the world of your college life, and cultivate friendships with the people all around you.