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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

What to Expect in Your First College Relationship (& How to Make it Work)

You’re a few weeks into your freshman year of college and a certain campus cutie has caught your eye in class. But you’ve never had a college relationship, and you know it’s so different than high school. There isn’t a Sadie Hawkins dance for you to make your move, and you don’t spend a full school day in the same building with him five days a week. So, how do you start a relationship in college? How do couples make it work? What should you expect? Read on to learn how college relationships are different than high school ones.

You’ll have more to learn about each other

College is different than high school in that the people you meet won’t know a lot about your past. You probably haven’t met your new SO’s parents yet and you have no idea who their friends are from home. “It was really hard for me to accept that my boyfriend had ‘another life’ at home,” says Emily from Indiana University. “I wanted to be a part of it, and eventually I was, but it was a struggle at first to hear about all these people and things I had no idea about.”

You can have sleepovers together

For most girls in high school, it probably would have been impossible to have a sleepover with her SO. Now that you’re in college, you can have a sleepover with your SO as many nights as you want! There aren’t any parents around to say no and no one is checking in on you at night. “My boyfriend and I have sleepovers a few times a week,” says Jill from University of Denver. “It’s not a big deal in college, and I love being able to see him at the end of my day.”

You might have roommate tension

No matter how much your roommate likes your SO, she probably doesn’t like them as much as you do (let’s hope!). The fact is, she might get annoyed if they’re over every day and night, and that’s something you have to consider. In high school, there was no one else around when your SO came over. Now, remember to check with your roommate before you have your SO over for an extended period of time.

You’ll have to prioritize


Like in high school, you’ll have to find a balance of spending time with your SO, your friends, in outside activities, and on your schoolwork. Your friends will want to spend time with you just as much as your SO does so you’ll have to find the time. School will be a demand, too—college is all about balance.

You’ll have more freedom

You make your own schedule in college, and choosing how to spend your time is completely up to you. If you want to ditch a class to spend time with your SO, you probably won’t have to answer to anyone about it. If you decide to stay in one night and cuddle with your cutie, that’s okay. College is all about freedom—you can spend as little or as much time with your SO. “My mom used to nag me whenever I would spend a few consecutive days in a row with my high school boyfriend,” says Katrina from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “It was so annoying. Now I can do whatever I want—no one is monitoring my time!”

You might have to do your relationship long-distance

Most likely, your new SO isn’t from your hometown so during school breaks and summers you’ll have to be long-distance. The two most challenging periods will be winter and summer breaks since they’re the longest. “I hate the time apart from my boyfriend during breaks,” says Rachel from the University of Missouri. “We always plan trips to see each other at least once to make the time apart more manageable.”

You’ll have to compromise

In high school, you probably had to take turns paying for dates or switch off visiting each other’s houses. And it’s the same in college—all relationships take compromise. “Me and my boyfriend try to take turns hanging out with each other’s friends since we don’t have the same friend group at school,” says Liz from the University of Missouri. “It takes some getting used to but it’s good to be there for each other.”

In order to maximize your college relationship experience, here are a few tips and tricks:

  • Be open to new experiences: there are plenty of chances to try new things and put yourself out there in college. It’ll be a great way to meet guys or bond with your new SO.
  • Keep reminders of the past: have photos handy and memories to share with your new SO so they can feel connected to who you were before college
  • Stay grounded: don’t let your new relationship rule your college experience. Try to make new friends and get your GPA up as high as possible.
  • Keep separate identities: There are plenty of chances in college for the two of you to spend time together, but don’t always take them. Hang out with friends and do things separately—you’ll be closer for it in the end!
  • Make your own memories together: Do fun things that you can only do in college like tailgate all day before a huge home football game, spend an entire night together studying in the library, or play hooky from class (as long as they don’t take attendance and you can get the notes from someone later!) so that you can sleep in.

Every relationship you’ll ever have will be different than the one you had before it, regardless of whether it was in high school or in college. What you have to remember is that despite the differences, there are a few things that are important in every relationship, like trust, commitment, honesty, and compatibility. Find someone in college who shares your same values, and you won’t ever have to make a big change from high school to college. Grow and learn together – but most of all, remember to have fun, collegiettes!

*Some names have been changed.

Allie Duncan is a senior, class of 2013, in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She is specializing in Strategic Communication within the Journalism department, while also pursuing a Textile and Apparel Management minor. In addition to writing for Her Campus, Allie is a member of Kappa Delta sorority - Epsilon Iota chapter, the Publicity Director for Her Campus Mizzou, a Campus Representative/Intern for Akira Chicago, a Contributing Writer for Chicago-Scene magazine and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. She spent the 2012 summer as an intern at Tory Burch, and the 2011 summer as an intern at Vogue magazine. A Chicago native, Allie enjoys shopping, watching reality television, cupcakes, expensive shoes and reading magazines. She hopes to eventually land a job in fashion public relations while living in New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago.