There are two big public universities in my Midwestern home state, and about 90 percent of graduates from my high school attend one of the two. When I chose to attend a private school in a state five hours away, I realized that I’d lose the security blanket of my high school friendships. In fact, there was not a single other girl from my school heading to the same place.
Sometime between high school graduation and the day I was scheduled to head off to college, I realized something terrifying. I don’t know how to make friends. I mean, I considered myself social and likable, but all of my best friends had always just… been there. We’d been going to school together since kindergarten, our parents were friends, and everyone just knew everyone. How the heck was I supposed to make friends from scratch? And what would happen if it turns out I sucked at it?
Luckily, I found an incredible friend group in college who are still my favorite people five years out. However, there were plenty of days in the beginning when I retreated back to my dorm room feeling completely lonely and halfway wishing I had just attended college back home with all my friends. The biggest thing I learned in search for friends in college? It’s all about being intentional with your search. While you may stumble upon friendships in random ways, setting out with the goal of making and being a quality friend goes a long way. Here are my top five pieces of advice.
First and foremost, be the type of friend you want.
You are going to attract what you put out. If you want to become friends with that guy who always has a smile on his face, put a smile on your own. If you want to get to know that girl who is constantly encouraging the people around her, be an encourager. If you want an outgoing, kind friend, be an outgoing, kind person. In many ways, making friends is like dating. You’ll attract people into your life by being the best version of yourself you can be. (Let’s be real, they’ll see your messy, vulnerable, less-than-attractive sides soon enough if you become true friends.)
This is also a great way to really figure out your own friendship priorities. For example, if you think you want to be friends with all the partiers and discover you’re really not that into partying yourself… well, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate! The better you know yourself, the better you’ll be able to identify who you want in your life.
I know – this one is a massive cliché. However, I don’t just mean getting involved in extracurricular activities or other standard, resume-building things. Say yes to as many invitations as you can! Say yes when your neighbor down the hall asks you to join them for lunch in the dining hall. Go to the free events around campus, like speakers and concerts and philanthropy events. Join organizations that interest you. Choose to study in the student lounge rather than your dorm room. The more you’re out and about, the higher your chances are of meeting a potential friend.
I love telling this story. On the first day of chemistry freshman year, a bubbly brunette approached me after class and said, “You’re a freshman too, right? Let’s walk back to the freshman campus together!” She recognized me and realized we were both heading the same way, and took the initiative to introduce herself. A little over a year ago, she was a bridesmaid in my wedding. We’ve been best friends for years, all thanks to a walk back from chemistry class.
Focus on one-on-one time.
When you first get to campus, there will be plenty of group hangouts. Everyone is getting to know everyone, and most situations are “the more the merrier!” Obviously, this is a great thing because you’ll get the chance to meet a ton of people. That said, you probably won’t form a deep, meaningful friendship when you’re rolling with a squad of 20 people. It’s really important to focus on one-on-one time with people, in any way you can.
In a group, make an effort to extend the conversation beyond names and majors. Strike up a conversation with one person at a time (and don’t underestimate the importance of eye contact!). If you find something you have in common, casually try to schedule a “friend date.” Spelling it out like this might sound a little bit creepy, but I promise it all makes sense in practice. For example, if you find out that you’re taking the same course as someone else, say something like, “We should study for the midterm together!” or “Let’s hit up that extra credit opportunity together.” It’s much easier to become real friends with someone if you break away from the group.
Don’t try to get people interested in you.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” –Dale Carnegie
It’s natural to try and “sell yourself” when you’re making friends. After all, the coolest, most interesting person in the room is the one everyone wants to be friends with! Well, maybe. Think about it from your point-of-view… would you rather become best friends with the person regaling crowds with a bunch of stories, or the person who genuinely wants to get to know more about your family, your goals, and your story? There is no better feeling than feeling like someone sees you and wants to understand you, and the best thing you can do is be that person yourself.
When I started college, I had a nasty habit of half-listening to the person I was talking to while mostly planning how I was going to respond. When I started intently listening to others and then asking follow-up questions to whatever they were talking about, I was amazed at how much better I got to know people. Plus, when you put in effort to really getting to know people, they’re more interested in getting to know you right back!
OK, just one more cliché to round out this post – but I couldn’t leave this one out. I am a firm believer that there is nothing in the world more endearing and attractive than someone being unapologetically themselves. I would so much rather spend time with the person who admits they’re feeling awkward or nervous than the person who glides in acting too cool for school. I adore people who can readily admit their shortcomings instead of overcompensating with sarcasm or arrogance. It’s not always comfortable to be vulnerable and honest, but it will win you so many more friends than acting like you’ve got it all together.