When I was a freshman advisor at Duke, one issue that I frequently discussed with my advisees was how they were doing socially. Some already had a million friends. Some had a few. And some were struggling to make any. To this last group – one that I belonged to when I was a freshman – I offer the following advice.
First and foremost, you are not alone. It’s easy to feel that way because when you’re walking around campus, you tend to only notice the groups of people who seem to be having the time of their lives, which then reaffirms your false belief that you’re the only one without any friends. But believe me: there are many students like you who are struggling to make friends too.
Second, taking time to make friends is normal. Starting college is like getting swept up in a tornado of activity and information. You’re trying to adjust to living in a new environment. You’re surrounded by hundreds of strangers. You’re trying to figure out academics, extracurriculars and a million other things. There’s only so much you can do at any one time, including making friends. The problem is that there’s an unrealistic expectation that you have to make friends within the first few days of arriving on campus; otherwise, you’ve missed the boat somehow.
Therefore, the first step to making friends is to recalibrate your expectations. When your expectations are rational and realistic, this positively impacts your emotions, which in turn positively impacts your actions. One expectation requiring recalibration, which I alluded to above, is how long it takes to make friends. Remember: there is no deadline by which you need to make friends. If it takes you a few weeks or months or longer, that’s fine as long as you’re making an effort. If you’re trying to make friends as quickly as possible, you may end up with the wrong crowd. Another expectation requiring recalibration is how many friends to make. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a group of friends. But practically speaking, start with one and go from there. Friendship isn’t a popularity contest. Go for quality over quantity.
Once your mindset is in the right place, it’s time to come up with a plan of action. There are many right ways to approach this, but I would recommend that you first focus on your interests. As you know, we often get along better with those who share similar interests. For instance, let’s say you’re interested in astronomy. Check to see if your school has an astronomy club or something similar and join. Just by doing that, you’ve already increased the chances of befriending someone.
But your work doesn’t end there; that’s where it begins. You can’t show up at club meetings assuming that people are going to come up to you and say, “Hey, wanna hang out?” You need to make the first move. Again, there are many ways to go about this. But here’s my suggestion: during a club meeting, look around and pick someone you think would make a good friend. This pick is based on observation and gut instinct. Once the meeting ends, introduce yourself to that person, engage in some small talk – Where are you from? What do you think about this club? – and then see if the person wants to grab coffee or whatever one of these days. If the person isn’t interested, don’t take it personally. There could be other things going on in that person’s life and making friends might not be a priority. Just put it behind you and try someone else. In the scheme of things, a rebuff (or two) is a small price to pay for the likelihood of lifelong friendships. I speak from personal experience. I was one of those freshmen who struggled to make friends. Yet I met two of my best friends freshman year and twenty-seven years later (and counting), we still are best of friends.
Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to flourishing at friendships your freshman year!