How to Make Friends in College

By Joanna Nesbit 

Despite what movies and college brochures might have you believe, making friends at school isn’t always easy. 

If you live off campus, for example, you might find it challenging to meet new people and maintain those connections because you don’t have the common ground of the dorms. Perhaps you are an older or transfer student who didn’t go through the traditional orientation process, making it more difficult to meet people in the same transition period as you. You could be juggling family or work obligations on top of coursework, so you don’t have as much time as you’d like to put into friendships. Or you could be a first-year student who hasn’t yet found the people you click with.

No matter your situation, there are times you might feel that you’re the only one struggling to find your place. But in reality, research suggests it’s extremely common to feel lonely during this period of change. Every single student goes through the ups and downs of making new friends in a new place. 

Thankfully, there are things you can do to start making friends on campus and support your well-being along the way.

Look at the Big Picture

Think back to the long-time friendships you had at home. How long did it take to forge those deep connections? What steps did you take to make those friendships so strong?

You might realize it took months, or even years, to get close with certain friends or to create a friend group where you felt you belonged. Be patient with yourself as you set out to make new friends at school.

Join a Group or Two

One of the easiest ways to get connected on campus is to join a club or peer group. Think about what you like to do or if there are activities you’re interested in but never had the opportunity to try. If your identity is different from the majority of students on campus, consider joining a group that aligns with your background. This could help you feel a more immediate sense of belonging.

From there, you can see what your school offers and attend a club fair or informational session for specific groups. Each college’s social offerings may look a little different, but some options to consider are:

  • Peer-led groups specifically for international, first generation, LGBTQIA+, Latiné, AAPI, or BIPOC students
  • Sororities or fraternities, including multicultural Greek organizations 
  • Fitness and wellness groups
  • Volunteer and activism groups, either on campus or in the local community 
  • Musical theater, dance classes or groups, or choir 
  • Drawing, painting, or other art-focused groups
  • Becoming a tour guide or orientation leader (these students often train together and forge a connection through their involvement) 
  • Club or intramural sports
  • Study or tutoring groups
  • Your school’s newspaper, magazine, or yearbook group

Look for Close (by) Connections

One of the great things about college is the opportunity to connect wherever you go. If you live in the dorms, you probably have a roommate and hallmates. You also have classmates, and you’ll likely start to notice people who take the same route to class as you do or head to the gym at a similar time. 

Lean into these relationships: Hang out with your roommate or hallmates if you have them, start a study group with classmates, or say hello to the student who waits for the bus with you.

Lean on Friends Back Home

While you’re adjusting to your new environment, your existing friends can be a great support network. They may also be transitioning to college and have similar feelings or experiences. Reach out to them for support and don’t be afraid to share little wins or advice about what’s working for you as you meet new people on campus.

Open Yourself Up to Opportunities and Resources

Though you can’t say yes to every invite that comes your way, pause before immediately turning down requests to hang out or try an activity on campus. Consider whether you’re saying no because you need the time to study or you genuinely aren’t interested, or if it’s because you’re being pushed outside of your comfort zone.

It can be scary to do something outside of your comfort zone, like going to a study group with classmates you don’t know well or trying an intramural sport you’ve never practiced, but it can be a great way to make new connections. Gently push yourself to say yes to some of these opportunities when they come up.

Additionally, open yourself up to using resources on campus. Making new friends is challenging, especially if you are experiencing social anxiety, homesickness, or other mental health challenges. You can lean on an advisor, your school’s counseling center, or your school’s student services office to help you cope, work on communicating with your peers, and find opportunities to connect with others.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.