Last night, my colleagues and I had a chance to talk with some parents of high school juniors and seniors about their concerns for their students’ college transition. One of the key areas they are most worried about is the social adjustment and their students’ ability to make friends at college.

As a group, we reflected on our students’ experiences making friends in pre-school, elementary school and high school. For many of our sons and daughters, their first friendships were likely fostered by their parents. We scheduled play dates, enrolled them in activities and found ways for them to meet other children. As they grew older, many of us continued to help our students make friends by supporting their involvement in sports, clubs and other activities. There they were able to engage with other children who shared their interests, and their friendships developed.

Simply put, many first year college students haven’t had a ton of solo practice in making new friends, at least in quite a while. In your visits and conversations with your student, you might be finding that they may feel lonely and discouraged if they haven’t yet found people they really connect with. If that’s the case with your student, here are some tips that might be helpful to share.

  1. It’s not easy! Making friends can be hard work sometimes. Help your student recognize that it’s normal for first-years to find this difficult. It’s not as effortless as it may seem. On their high school friends’ social media accounts, it may appear that everyone is having a blast at college; they may feel that they’ve missed the boat. Remind them that social media doesn’t give the full picture and encourage them to be patient.
  2. Get out of your room. To make friends, first-years need to move outside their comfort zone, both literally and figuratively. For students living on campus, they can look for places to study outside their dorm room (which is usually better academically as well), such as the residence hall’s common room or the student union. Commuters may want to stay on campus for more extended hours, rather than leaving right after classes end. Being on campus in the midst of other students provides opportunities to run into students they may have met in class, or to strike up a conversation with someone.
  3. Roommates aren’t always the best of friends. First-years who start college thinking their roommate will be their new BFF are often sorely disappointed. It’s not easy living with another person. I can’t imagine sharing a room with my best friend! Often roommates can get along well, and can have a good time together, but they shouldn’t necessarily expect to be joined at the hip. Be open to meeting other people.
  4. Be open-minded. Some students are expecting that the friends they’ll make in college will be just like the friends they had in high school. They may be looking to recreate a friend group that was comfortable to them in the past. But it’s college, and it’s a time to meet people who are very different from them! Encourage them to be open-minded when they meet new people.
  5. Join a club or organization. What better way to meet other students who share the same interests? By joining a club or participating in an activity, students are meeting people beyond their residence halls or their classes. Let them know that clubs are not only social in nature – there are even academic organizations at most colleges. It might take a few weeks to feel comfortable, but it’s definitely worth it to get involved.

You might have to help your student set up realistic expectations in this department. Creating lasting connections will certainly take more than a full semester, or even a year in some cases. Relationships are hard work. Encourage your student to be patient – it takes time to develop their relationship-building skills. After all, the fundamentals of learning to connect with others will be the basis for their ability to network in their future careers and to form long-term relationships.

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