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How To Make New Friends In College, Even If You’re Shy

If you typed “what do you do if you have no friends in college” into your Google search engine to get here, don’t be embarrassed. That’s the reality of college life: Finding your BFF can be difficult!

Whether you’re a freshman, transfer student, or even a senior, learning how to make friends in college can be more daunting than an 8 a.m. calculus class. And with the campus experience looking a bit different nowadays due to the pandemic, it can be common to feel lonely at school. Trust me, you’re not the only one wondering why you haven’t found your people yet — it’s normal to struggle, especially when you’re shy.

“I came into college with a group of friends,” Georgia,* 20, tells Her Campus. “But thanks to COVID and social isolation, I don’t have many friends left. Lockdown only made my social anxiety worse.”

Even though striking up conversations with strangers can be stressful, it’s never too late to form new relationships, whether that means reaching out to a classmate, or showing up to more on-campus events. Remember: There are hundreds — maybe even thousands — of other students on campus. There are plenty of avenues for new experiences, conversations, and friendships in your classes, clubs, and dorms.

Not sure where to start? That’s okay. Her Campus spoke to Rebecca Phillips, a licensed therapist specializing in relationships and related issues in young adults and operator of Mend Modern Therapy, who was able to provide some insight on forming college friendships.

Why can’t I make friends in college?

When you first arrive on campus, you might feel like everyone but you is in a rush to find their place and settle into a friend group from the get-go. The truth is, many struggle when it comes to finding a space in college where they fit in.

“Our expectations don’t always match reality,” Phillps tells Her Campus. “We may have dreamed of a close-knit college friend group right off the bat, only to find that it takes more effort and energy to make friends in college than it did in high school.”

Phillips says that the routine and familiarity of high school has a way of following you into college, impacting the way we believe friendships are to be formed.

“We may not have the same proximity and repetition to our college cohort that we did in high school,” says Phillips. “Friendships are more likely to develop naturally in an atmosphere of proximity, similarity, and repetition. These factors were built into our high school experience, whereas we may need to work harder in college to develop this dynamic.”

Instead of being surrounded by the same people for the past 10+ years like they were in high school, some college students are dropped into a brand-new environment, complete with brand-new people, to boot. If you’re in this situation, you might feel overwhelmed by the amount of new potential connections around you and lack of your old support system. But meeting new people can mean experiencing new things and making new friends. So don’t let talking to strangers intimidate you!

How to make friends as a transfer

For transfer students, missing out on events like freshman orientation and the bonding experience of gen ed classes has ended can be intimidating. In the 2020-21 academic year, The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported that about 2.1 million students transferred between colleges. So, don’t fret about being an outlier, because millions of students are right there with you.

If you’re wondering how to meet people without dedicated mixers or other events that are held for freshmen at orientation, the textbook answer is that you need to get involved on campus, whether that means signing up for student council or even rushing a sorority if you want to. Simply adding your name to a club sign-up sheet and going to the first meeting could very well be the first step in introducing you to your new besties.

“Step out of your comfort zone,” Phillips tells Her Campus. “Show up to different activities and events. Talk to people and engage others in conversation, even if it feels uncomfortable for you. You’ll find that some people will appreciate your effort and reciprocate. Then, you build off of that casual rapport.”

Do you have a go-to activity? A secret passion? A sport you’ve always wanted to try? College can be a great time to explore new interests and hobbies. Between sports teams, social clubs, campus planning, on-campus work, theater, and specialized intersectional groups, you have so many options to help you find your place on campus. Not to mention, there are often entire clubs on campus dedicated to transfer students!

What if I’m a shy introvert or someone with social anxiety?

Say it with me: Struggling with generalized anxiety is common. In a survey of 200 college students from across the country, 82% were reported to be struggling with anxiety in 2020, and 43% said that their anxiety has only gotten worse since the pandemic.

Regardless of your comfort level in social situations, remember that there is no right or wrong way to experience on-campus life — especially when it comes to forming friendships.

“Set an intention to talk to a certain number of people every week,” Phillips says. “It’s too easy to wait for others to talk to you or for a friendship to just magically develop. If you want to make friends, you need to put yourself out there and talk to others.”

Easier said than done, right? But talking to someone new doesn’t necessarily mean walking up to them and saying, “Do you want to be my friend?” Making plans with a classmate to study together or DMing someone on Instagram to ask them a question about the homework can be low-stakes ways to potentially kickstart a new connection.

Phillips also says that, despite the stereotypical college lifestyle, there are still ways to have fun and make friends outside of partying or the going out lifestyle. “If you’re more on the introverted side, it’s important not to compare yourself to your extroverted peers,” she says. “You don’t have to go to all the parties; you can go to a coffee shop instead. The point is that you can honor your energy and make friends in a way that is comfortable to you. You’ll find that your friendships are more sustainable when you do.”

Yes, you can still make college friends if your classes are hybrid or online.

While the pandemic may have made in-person communication much harder, it did leave the door open for virtual connection. Whether you hang out with friends over FaceTime or have Zoom dates, you can still form and maintain friendships with other college students through the screen.

While having group FaceTime study sessions and Zoom breakout rooms can help you get to know people in your class, apps like Bumble BFF are designed to help you find friends in your area, possibly in the same position as you. Just like online dating, you’ll be able to find other college students or people your age in the area who are looking to build a new friendship. So, if the idea of talking to people in person is daunting, check out what’s happening online. It’s 2022, bestie. URL is the new IRL!

There’s no foolproof, surefire, mathematical solution to making friends. While getting involved, setting intentions, and putting yourself out there may aid in the friendship process, remember: You are the best friend you could ever have, so learn how to be friends with yourself first. Try eating a meal or two alone in the dining hall, going out on a solo adventure in your city, and take your mind off feeling like you need to fit into a group. Once your relationship with yourself strengthens, your confidence and self-assurance will shine, leading to positive and lasting friendships.

“Be confident. Take risks,” Phillips says. “If you notice someone that you find interesting, try to strike up a casual conversation. I think you’ll find that more often than not, people will be kind and open to you that way!”

While you can sometimes feel insignificant or lonely in college, remember that you’re not the only person in this boat. These four years can be an opportunity to grow into the person you’re supposed to be, and that can take time. So be patient with yourself, but don’t stand on the sidelines the entire time.

*Name has been changed.

julianna (she/her) is an associate editor at her campus where she oversees the wellness vertical and all things sex and relationships, wellness, mental health, astrology, and gen-z. during her undergraduate career at chapman university, julianna's work appeared in as if magazine and taylor magazine. additionally, her work as a screenwriter has been recognized and awarded at film festivals worldwide. when she's not writing burning hot takes and spilling way too much about her personal life online, you can find julianna anywhere books, beers, and bands are.