How to Make Friends in College
Making friends at college can feel like an overwhelming and intimidating prospect. But don't worry—we've got you covered.
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Welcome to the VICE Guide to Life, our imperfect advice on becoming an adult.
College can be an overwhelmingly scary, lonely place. You’ve just graduated high school, giddy and euphoric as friends sign your yearbook and you pose for photos in your parents' hallway, hand on hips, broad smiles on your face. You’ll be friends forever, you vow. (Spoiler! You almost certainly won’t.) Then you go to college, and your parents drop you off in your dorm, and you sit on your bed thinking, what next?
If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably dive headfirst into your college’s social scene and make a bunch of friends before you belatedly realize, with a stunning but crushing sense of clarity, that you have nothing in common and actually actively dislike most of them. Unless extreme social awkwardness is your thing, don’t do as I did and ghost all your former friends while scrambling to find an entirely new social group halfway through your course.
It’s easy to feel when you arrive at college that you’ll never find your crew. But everyone feels like that, and it’s natural to cycle through a couple of different friendship circles before finding the people you feel comfortable, happy, and safe with. The people who’ll peel you off a bathroom floor when you’re drunk; the people who’ll bring you kombucha in the library mid-essay crisis; or comfort you when you experience your first heartbreak. Pick your college friends wisely, and they'll be your friends forever: I sprayed purple vomit all over my best friend's shoe after one ill-judged narcotics-related adventure in our second year, and we're still pals a decade on. (His shoes were gross anyway.)
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And if you’re feeling anxious or stressed about how you’ll make friends, don’t worry: We’ve got you covered. Read on as five Broadly writers share their pro tips for how to make the sort of friends you’ll want to keep at college—and for the rest of your life.
Be proactive, but pick your friends wisely.
Going to university or college? Time to make friends. Our late teens and 20s are peak friendship-making years, not least because things like alcohol, dancing, talking and learning are powerful bonding agents. Where in school you made friends by convenience, you now get to choose them by who you want to be, what you’re interested in and what you like doing. There are so many opportunities to meet people: at a philosophy tutorial, a netball game, an engineering lecture, on the campus newspaper, a party, a job, a study group, a language class. But you won’t make friends by accident at university or college—you have to be proactive about it.
Talk to people in tutorials and lectures, pluck up the courage to suggest a coffee after class. Remember people’s names, introduce yourself thoughtfully, use social media to consolidate a fledgling friendship, and be forward enough to ask people out for a drink or a walk or a study session if you like them. Social interaction can be hard, especially if you’re shy, anxious, or an introvert, but you can make the friends of a lifetime at university or college if you only have the courage to put yourself out there. And don’t rush into being best buddies with the first person you meet at Freshman Week! Take a little time to work out what kind of people you’d like to have in your life, get to know them before you recruit them into your friendship circle. When in doubt, be open, kind, and brave.
Kate Leaver, author of The Friendship Cure
Treat social media like Tinder, but for friends
Everyone says that the best way to make friends at college is by joining a society. But if, like me, you’re not into the idea of basing your entire friendship on being really into Harry Potter or live-action role playing games, then you should do what you’ve probably already done with your dating life, and pivot to online.
Use the Facebook group for your course as Tinder, but for friends. You’ll have a few days of painful small talk, very likely about whether you’ve made a start on the reading list (you haven’t) and then go for a drink before your course starts. Finding great mates will always be painful but nothing that bad can happen. I know this to be true, because it worked for me: Four years ago I accidentally sent a girl I hadn’t met yet a Facebook sticker which looked like a red, puckering asshole, and somehow, all these years later, we’re best friends! If that worked for me, it can work for you. Don’t worry—you’ll be fine.
Compliments will get you everywhere!
On my first day of college I was so nervous that I was sick the night before. Being in a new environment and not knowing a single soul on my course scared the shit out of me, but just remember everyone else is in the same boat.
I felt that being the only Asian girl on my course added an extra hurdle. Although I didn’t really see it at the time, but use what makes you different to your advantage because that’s what makes you unique.
I actually still use this strategy in my day-to-day when meeting new people. I remember going up to a girl outside class and telling her that I loved her dress. The rest is history! You never achieve anything in life by staying in your comfort zone, and the same rule applies to making friends. Strike up a conversation and compliment someone. It’s a great way to start a conversation with absolutely anyone and it gives you a topic to talk about. It may seem daunting at first, but you’ll look back afterwards and realize that it wasn’t so bad. Most importantly, just be nice and don’t be a dick. No one’s got time for bitching, negativity, and fakeness.
Do as I say, not as I do
I did everything you’re not supposed to do if you want to actually make mates at college. I thought I was too cool to wear fancy dress and knock back flavored vodka shots, so I skipped every single party and sat in my bedroom, reading poetry by dead women, waiting for my people to find me. (Strangely, they didn’t.) After my initial friendship making attempts failed, I got into a long-term relationship that lasted four years, most of which I spent clinically depressed.
All of this is to say: Don’t do what I did. Don’t do any of that. Be open and positive. Go to parties, even if it means doing keg stands with a frat boy with a traffic cone on his head. Sleep around (use protection). Also, speak to people you wouldn’t normally chat to. Everyone’s out of their comfort zone, and everyone's reaching for human interaction. Remember this, and you’ll be fine.
Your friends won't always be the people you expect
A queer girl from south London, I wasn’t meant to fit in at my provincial college. But eventually, I found my crowd—friends I now hold so dear I can share six-minute voice notes with or can survive splitting a restaurant bill with.
It all started when I got stuck in a coercive relationship six weeks into the first semester. She used to brag about how many Facebook friends she had, and while trying to beat her tally, I met some genuinely great people who preferred me to her anyway. Away from the quicksand of what I thought was love, refusing to settle easily into any clique kept my circle of friends wide at first and deep later.
A small college like mine could feel suffocating. Even pre-Instagram, everyone knew each other's business. Smoking had just been banned inside clubs, so we'd languish under heaters in the cold, holding court, getting to know each other over hip-flasks, rather than shouting across sticky dance-floors.
What did I learn? To look beneath stereotypes to find brains under back-combed hair; hearts under preppy polo shirts. Over 5 AM non-versations at house parties fuelled by cheap wine and the mellow high of molly cut with sugar, I got to know people I never knew I'd wanted to get to know. One word of warning: Never date, or befriend, anyone who brags about how many Facebook friends they have.