Although much of the time you and your child have spent preparing for college may have revolved around their classes, studies, and major, it’s important to remember that a college education is a social experience. They’ll be learning as much from their friends as they do from their professors. In today’s age, who you know is just as important as what you know, and some of the friends they make in college may be ones they have for life.
There are many reasons for your child to be excited about the new people they’ll meet in college.
• They’ll be meeting people who are studying the same field as they are, and people that share the same interests.
• They’ll be meeting people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs who can challenge and inform their worldview.
• The experiences that they have (such as living on their own for the first time) are ones that their peers will naturally relate to because they’re going through the same thing!
This should excite them! However, it is understandable that they may be nervous as well. It’s not uncommon for incoming freshmen to have fear about fitting in; in fact, being worried about fitting in is one of the biggest fears that college students face.
COVID-19 has amplified many of these fears. Students may find it harder to reach out to their classmates in isolated or socially distancing learning and living environments. They may feel like they’re alone, but every other student in their class is going through the same thing.
No one wants to feel like they don’t belong, but these tips will make it easier for students to find new friends.
Participation Is Key
Your child isn’t going to have interactions if they don’t put themselves out there, and thankfully, college campuses offer many easy ways for students to be around their peers. Even if they aren’t particularly outgoing, orientation, dorm hall meetings, and informational assemblies offer opportunities for a simple greeting or exchange of contact information. Although many of these meetings may have transitioned to digital seminars, most online group chats offer students the chance to introduce themselves and share their major, background, and interests.
Take Advantage Of Freshman Year
The first semester away from home is going to be challenging, but it’s a challenge that many students are going through, and it’s important for your child to understand that their concerns about starting this new stage of their life are shared by their peers. Colleges have many freshman-centric events, and many dorm halls and entry level classes will consist mostly of first year students who are all experiencing this for the first time.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be Outgoing
Making that first interaction with someone new is always going to be challenging, but people will be drawn to those who smile and have a positive attitude. Asking questions is a great way to spark a discussion; it doesn’t even have to be anything serious, but people value those who can listen, and chances are they may be feeling a lot of the same things.
Look For Clubs and Other Activities
There’s no better way for your child to find people with similar interests than a campus club or activity group. Not only will club members share many of the same goals and habits, but they’ll be excited to be there! Encourage your child to try clubs and organizations that they’re unfamiliar with too, as they may find a new hobby and a group of friends to share it with.
Attend Study Groups
Forming or joining a study group isn’t just a means for your child to meet their classmates, but it’s a practical way to get ahead in classes. Study groups that pool together their resources, share study tips, go over test answers, and collaborate on research can lead to better grades, and the regular interaction gives them an excuse to stay in touch! Your child might even meet people who share classes with them in the future, and it’s always nice to have a go-to study buddy.
Look For One-On-One Interactions
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by large group events when your child is just one of the masses, so encourage them to find opportunities for one-on-one interactions. They can try a lunch or coffee meeting if their campus allows in-person social distancing. A two person Zoom call is also bound to be less chaotic and more focused than one with a larger group. Whether it's related to a shared club, class, or just getting to know someone, finding at least one person to connect with on a daily basis will boost your child’s interpersonal skills.
You want your child to be as happy and healthy as possible as they embark on this new adventure, but remember:
• Friendships develop naturally over time
• Not everyone they meet will be their best friend
• They can always call home if they’re feeling stuck
Hybrid courses and digital learning have changed many things about the college experience, but the need for a strong group of friends never goes away.