College can be an exciting and scary experience all at once. On one hand you’re finally branching out on your own, going into a new world full of new people, ideas, and experiences. You are about to embark on a journey that you will remember for the rest of your life. However, you are also leaving most if not all of your friends and family and going to live in a new environment. Adjusting to all of this can be a bit overwhelming at first. A big part of college life is finding where you fit in, and this guide aims to make that process as simple as possible to navigate.
Whether you’re going to a college with a student population many times that of your high school or vice versa, just know that there is a place for you. Some find their place naturally; it’s easy for them to find the exact right group of people and the right activities as soon as they set foot on campus. For others it may take some searching, but fear not! With the advice in this guide you will be well on your way to finding your social group and making college your own. A quick note before we get started — the language in this guide is aimed towards college freshman, but the principles mentioned can be applied to anyone whether you’re just starting or on your way out.
The first thing you will want to do has nothing to do with other people or activities. Rather, it has to do with your mindset. You need to make sure you are open to any and all new experiences. Forget what you did in high school and forget what your parents told you when they dropped you off. The entire point of college (aside from getting a higher education) is to experience things you did not have the opportunity to experience at home. You must trust this process! College is a unique time in your life, and as cliché as it sounds you will really never get that experience again after graduation. With that being said, you’re going to want to do everything you can in order to take advantage of this time. Greeting this experience with an open mind is the first step towards making the most of your college years and finding where you belong.
This may be easier said than done for some, especially if you are shy, not used to stepping outside of your comfort zone, or otherwise reserved. If this sounds like you then just take things slowly. You don’t have to jump in all at once. Pick one thing per week that you’d like to do outside of your comfort zone. This could be anything from sitting with a new group of people in the dining hall to trying a club sport that you’ve never played (or never played well!). Create a checklist and cross off each thing as you’ve done it. By the end of your first semester you will be so proud of how far you have come and how much you have experienced!
Now that you have prepared yourself for having new experiences, it’s time for the next step: meet everyone in your first couple months on campus. I mean everyone — on the floor of your dorm room, in your classes, people who seem to eat in your corner of the dining hall, everyone. Obviously there are some universities and colleges where this is impossible due to the sheer number of students. If you attend a large university, don’t take this advice literally, but do make your best effort to make as many friends as possible. Doing this during the first couple months of the school year is crucial, because like it or not cliques are a very real thing. If you wait until halfway through the year, people will have already formed their friend groups and it will be harder to branch out. Remember to keep an open mind and don’t just meet the types of people you would have hung out with in high school — you never know who your core friends are going to be.
Now that you’ve gotten a bunch of new acquaintances and friends, it’s time to tackle clubs, organizations and teams. Some of you will know exactly which organizations and team(s) you want to be a part of. To those of you who match this description, I say best of luck! I still encourage you to keep your mind open and at least get on the listserv for a couple clubs that look interesting (maybe you’ll want to join later in your college career). For those of you who have no idea which clubs to join (if any), do not worry. Pretty much every college has a key fair some time early in the fall where all of the clubs gather to hand out information to interested prospective members. Be realistic here; don’t sign up for a bunch of things that you know you have no interest in — that won’t help you. However, if you see a club that looks like something you may want to be a part of, go ahead and sign up. Go to the meetings over the next few weeks and get a feel for the activities and people involved. Worst-case scenario is you’re not really into it, in which case you can drop it and move on to the next thing. Best-case scenario is you find something you’re really passionate about and meet friends you’ll have for the rest of your life!
Perhaps you are a recruited athlete, in which case congratulations! Your sport will probably take up the bulk of your time outside of class, which is completely fine. You will undoubtedly become very close with your teammates, so for you finding where you belong may not be so difficult. However, still make sure you have an open mind. If you have another passion that a club represents, absolutely sign up. Ultimately this guide is about helping students find places on campus where they feel they belong and are happy, so by all means take advantage of whatever your school offers that you want to be a part of.
The next component is classes. There are some of you who know with 100% certainty what you want to major in and what you want to make your career in afterwards. Even for you go-getters, I urge you to branch out. You don’t have to constantly second-guess your choices, and if you know what you like then more power to you. However, you may realize that there’s another academic area you are enthusiastic about. It’s also equally likely that you will find the area of study you think you want to be in very boring or excessively difficult. It is incredibly common for students to change majors; do not fret if this is you. The only way to figure out if you like something is to try it out, so apply this thinking to classes as well.
You should also consider running for student government. These are great leadership positions that will no doubt impress future employers while also allowing you to meet many more members of the student body. You may have talents that would serve you well in the position, such as communication, writing, and people skills. Participating in student government will help you feel connected to your class and let you see a side of the school you might not otherwise have paid much attention to. This is also an excellent opportunity if you disagree with the decisions of your school’s administration and want to do something about it. If you’re the type of student who enjoys making a difference, then this is definitely something to consider.
Next are parties and social life. Parties are a fantastic way to meet people in an informal setting. Please don’t confuse this with drinking. While drinking is a large component of most college social scenes, it doesn’t have to be part of yours if you don’t want it to. There are plenty of non-drinking alternatives if that’s what you’re looking for. They may be harder to find at certain schools than others, but they always exist. If you don’t consider yourself a partier but you’re not opposed to going out, take the time to go to a few events — especially at the beginning of the year. The start of the academic year is cause for celebration, and you will meet infinitely more people in one night at a party than you will by the other methods mentioned in this article.
When it comes to Greek Life, don’t limit yourself. If your family has been in the same fraternity/sorority since before the Civil War and you know that’s where you want to be, then don’t sweat it. However, for those of you who want to shop around, this is another way of finding where you belong. Many students take great joy and pride in their fraternity/sorority, and stay in touch long after graduation. Don’t pin your hopes on one organization, because there’s only so much you can do to impress your brothers/sisters. Wherever you end up, just make sure that you actually enjoy the company of your brothers/sisters and that you feel like you’re part of a family.
You will also want to get to know the community surrounding the college. Many colleges and universities are self-contained; oftentimes students don’t ever venture outside campus for much more than a trip to the grocery store or a movie. However, getting to know your community could inspire you to get involved in a great cause. Perhaps there is a club that does local service projects; those are always great ways to explore the surrounding area. You might find something you really care about, such as helping out at a local homeless shelter or babysitting a professor’s children.
So far we’ve covered meeting new people, clubs, classes, student government, social life, and getting acquainted with the surrounding community. The final component is to not try too hard. This purpose of this guide is to make your life easier, not more difficult or complicated. Take advantage of the wide range of opportunities that are available to you, but don’t feel pressured to try everything all at once. Just because you have an open mind doesn’t mean you need to go out and pretend to be someone you’re not, get involved in things you don’t actually care about, or take classes in a subject you hate. Rather, this is a call to not limit yourself and to not be shy. At the end of the day, college about self-exploration. Regardless of what you choose to do, you will grow and mature in ways that would never have been possible had you stayed at home and not gone to school.
You will naturally find your place, so long as you make sure to get involved in different things. Make the effort to meet people and branch out. When it comes time for graduation, you will be very happy you did so. Now get out there and find your niche!