How To Meet People When It Feels Like You Have No Friends In College
For many young adults, college is the first time they live independently. For others, it may be the first time they’ve had to dive headfirst into the social waters of adulthood without the safety nets of family or childhood friends to assist them. A sense of social isolation is a common experience when trying to settle into a new environment. For example, a recent study of 10,000 university students in the UK found that “59% of students said they were lonely most of the time, all of the time, or at least once a week”, a percentage much higher than in the general population.
Still, as difficult as it is, most colleges also offer many opportunities for creating social connections. Teams, clubs, and events are all over the place on college campuses; the trick is to find the ones that best suit your interests and needs. So, while accepting that college is very often a difficult period for people’s social lives, here are some ways to overcome the challenges of college loneliness.
Accepting That College Is A Transitionary Period
Most people’s lives have many transitionary stages, filled with moments when you wake up in a new place and feel entirely out of place.
Being a college student is one of those stages. It’s a space where many people feel pressure to simultaneously perform well academically, plant the seeds of their future careers, and have a healthy social life, all at once. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on anyone, especially young people who are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
It’s not unusual for college students to put their social life on hold to focus more on academics, but that’s not the only factor contributing to college loneliness. A 2018 study of German college students linked higher rates of loneliness to people struggling with physical inactivity, cultural differences, and other factors which created barriers to integrating with new social circles. One main takeaway from the study was that these problems are often traceable to the struggles of transitioning into a new environment.
If you are struggling with transitioning from home life to college life, it’s important to remind yourself that periods of change are often emotionally difficult. It’s often helpful to first accept that you’re having a hard time with your transition by reminding yourself that most people in your position have difficulty adjusting. Once you’ve come to terms with that fact, it will be easier to take the next steps toward meeting people and making friends.
Escaping The Social Media Trap
One of the worst causes of college loneliness is the need to compare our own inner lives to the externally-presented lives of others. This tendency is perfectly natural but often very damaging to our self-esteem.
In a piece for the New York Times, Cornell student Emery Bergmann described her experience of loneliness as a college freshman: “The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely… I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.” This cycle of self-doubt and blame made the first months of her college life very difficult.
As she tells it, one aspect of Bergmann’s struggle was that she felt stuck in the trap of comparing her inner life to the lives people projected on social media. In her piece, she urges her readers to remember that “Social Media is Not Reality”. This nugget of wisdom resonates with the findings of studies on the connection between social media usage and loneliness. Contrary to what the term “social media” might suggest, research shows that overusing social media is commonly linked to feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Therefore, it makes sense that many therapists and psychological researchers recommend finding ways to limit one’s social media usage. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania, titled “No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression”, found that undergraduates who limited their social media usage to thirty minutes per day experienced a significant decrease in their loneliness.
Young adults struggling with loneliness will often take refuge in social media distractions. Even though they think it will make them feel better, it usually has the opposite effect. If you think social media is exacerbating your feelings of loneliness, it might be wise to consider a “social media diet”. For example, you might try limiting your usage to thirty minutes per day, like the students in the study mentioned above. Find an amount of time that works for you, and do your best to stick to it.
Try Joining A Club
Most colleges and universities will have a wide variety of student- and faculty-run clubs open for anyone. These clubs often present perfect opportunities to meet people with similar values, backgrounds, and recreational hobbies. By creating spaces based around common interests, college clubs are usually an easy way to break down social barriers that you may be struggling with.
If you need a few suggestions, here are some clubs that are commonly found on college campuses:
Club sports, like softball, soccer, frisbee, kickball—or even less physically demanding games such as chess—are often helpful to meet people who like to be active and have some friendly competition.
Food/cooking clubs are another popular option, allowing people to cook meals from different countries and cultures.
Academic clubs give people a chance to learn from one another and talk about topics related to their studies or interests outside of their major. In either case, these clubs are a great way to meet people with similar intellectual ambitions.
Clubs based on politics or culture can also be an excellent way to get to know people who have the same values, backgrounds, and interests. Consider looking for clubs based on the kinds of films, music, or books you enjoy.
And those are just a handful of possibilities. If you’re unsure how to track down a club that suits your interests, they are commonly advertised either on college websites and social media or in common spaces like libraries, cafeterias, or auditoriums.
Alternatively, if you’re feeling ambitious, you could always start your own club. It may be more work, but it also allows you the freedom to pick whichever interest best suits you.
Start Or Join A Study Group
Sometimes academics get in the way, especially during stressful times like exam periods. When school commitments feel like they’re preventing you from spending time with people, one useful compromise is joining a study group. These groups, while having less focus on socializing, allow students to feel less isolated while getting their work done. At the very least, everyone in a study group aims a common goal—learning.
And even still, no one can study forever. You will likely get to know your study buddies more as people over time, and friendships may blossom from there.
Getting Off Campus
If you’re living in the dorms at your college or university, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that you’re limited to the boundaries of the school campus. However, that’s not always the case, and if you find that campus life is not meeting your needs it may be worth exploring the world outside your school.
If you’re in a populated area like a city or large town, it might be worth looking into local cultural establishments, for example, museums or theaters, which may have their own communities for you to join.
However, if you’re in a more isolated area, it may be worth looking into outdoor opportunities in your area. It’s worth seeing if your college has an outdoor club—or something similar—which engages students with hiking, climbing, paddling, and a host of other nature-based activities. Time spent in contact with nature has been proven to help people’s mental health, including reducing feelings of loneliness. But even if you don’t have entry to an outdoor club, it’s still possible to find other people willing to spend some time outdoors, even if it’s just a short walk.
So, if you’ve been struggling to find social groups on campus, don’t be afraid to keep expanding your search. You may even discover a new hobby or interest along the way.
Talk To A Professional
One of the difficulties of loneliness can be the cycle of feeling like you need to talk to someone about your loneliness and then feeling worse when you don’t know who to talk to. If you are struggling with that mindset, talking to a mental health professional may be helpful.
One study on combating loneliness with online therapy found its subjects to have a significant reduction in feelings of loneliness after 12 weeks. The study found that, while face-to-face treatment is also effective, the availability and comfort of online therapy provided major benefits to its patients.
While it’s important to care about your academic performance in college, having a healthy social life is vital to the happiness of most students. Even though it’s very common for college students to experience loneliness, colleges also provide a lot of ways to meet people with similar interests and values. Clubs, study groups, off-campus exploration, and social media diets effectively combat college loneliness and make new friends.