Starting out life at college is both awesome and intimidating. You are meeting tons of new people and they are also meeting tons of new people. It can feel like an overload on your brain to try to remember everyone and think of something interesting to talk about. The number one go-to for inter-freshmen conversation is “What are you majoring in?” which is a little ridiculous because most people have no clue, or they think they know exactly what they want to do and figure out after first semester that that is exactly what they don’t want to do. (Hint: At W&M, about 6 out of 10 people you meet will say either Biology or another Pre-Med track. Only about 1 out of those six will actually pursue it in the end.) Finding something to talk about can be difficult, so try these conversation starter ideas if you’re trying to avoid having the same conversation with someone 8 times in a week.
Where are you living? In ordinary circumstances, this is a really creepy question to open with-- but freshman year at W&M, everyone lives in a dorm and bonds with the people living there. You’ll probably know the names of many or most of the people in your dorm, depending on how big or small your dorm is. You’ll sometimes even refer to people by their dorm, as in “Emily from Monroe” or “Jon from Faquier.” People who live near you will likely become your buddies, and people who live near your other friends can become a topic of conversation-- “Oh you live in Barrett? One of my friends from High School lives there!” or “Dude, my cousin lives in Jefferson! Have you met?” You can also talk about the reputations of dorms and what it’s like living there. For example, small dorms like those in the Botetourt Complex are known for being very tight-knit, while larger dorms like Yates are typically known for being more party-friendly. My freshman year Dupont was notorious for getting into ridiculous shenanigans and 3am fire alarms. These are all good conversation elements, and they’ll also help you remember where they’re living so you can hang out or visit.
What did you think of this event? There are tons of events on campus, and many of them are ones you will be forced to go to as freshmen. There’s lots of stuff to talk about when it comes to different orientation events or other beginning of the year kick-off stuff. Ask them how they felt about the Diversity presentation or the program on sexual assault or the “surprise” at Reveley’s door.
What class are you excited about? We are TWAMPs. At W&M we are excited to learn and take awesome classes with awesome professors. People will gush to you about their passion for History or the way they are learning so much in Anthropology. They’ll tell you about how much of a BAMF their film studies teacher is, or that they look forward to a really boring class just because their professor is so hilarious. This is a really cool way to get to know people’s passions.
Compliment something. Shoes, nails, hair, top, backpack, whatever. People love it when you notice details about them. It’s especially great when you’re feeling like you’re being washed away in a sea of faces those first few weeks. Be genuine about your compliment-- you don’t want to be a Regina George.
What clubs are you thinking of joining? This is much better than “What are you majoring in?” because it’s a lot more niche and weird and people don’t feel like they’re telling you about a life commitment that they’re still not sure about. I mean afterall, it’s pretty cool that so-and-so is planning to major in Psychology, but it’s even cooler when you find out they’re thinking about joining the Photography club, the Doctor Who club, the Kendo club, and possibly auditioning for some a cappella groups. You’ll learn a lot more this way. This should probably happen after everyone’s gone to the Activities Fair, but some people do scope ahead early.
So why did you pick W&M? At W&M we absolutely adore our school. School spirit is cool spirit! (You should probably only ever say that in a humorous way.) Finding out why someone decided to come here is a great way to get to know them. Did they like the programs here? The campus? The culture? The cool clubs? The laid back atmosphere? The prevalence of quirky guys in bowties?
Where are you from? A lot of people get a little homesick when first starting out, especially if they’ve never been away from home for this long, or if they live really far away. Asking people where they’re from is nice because people feel like you care about who they were before W&M but it also gives them a way to talk about what they miss about home in a way that’s less emotional than if they gushed while calling home. It also reinforces the idea that that place didn’t exit their lives when they exited the city or state borders. Pro Tip: Everyone is from NoVA or New Jersey. Okay, not everyone, but it will feel like everyone. It’ll feel like NoVA kids-- particularly those from TJ-- have their own little club. Don’t feel weird about it though-- they just happen to come from a really densely populated area of Virginia so it really only makes sense that they end up in large numbers at a Virginia state school. Don’t feel intimidated by the fact that they’re from the “NoVA club” because it’s not as big a deal as you might think.
So those are some ways to start a conversation with other students at school with a more interesting and less hackneyed approach than “What’s your major?” Share your conversation starter ideas in the comments, and good luck to those of you beginning at W&M this fall! Welcome to the family.