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Ask The Experts

Is College Just Like High School Socially?


I had a perception that college would be different, but noticed people were forming groups of friends immediately or they were already part of one from their previous school. It’s been a month and a half and I haven’t connected with anyone. I feel very lonely and alienated because I don’t know anyone on a personal level at school. I don’t know if feeling like a fish out of water still is normal. When I try to talk to people, I come off as awkward and “dorky”. When I pass people, I try to smile, but they look right past me. If it helps to know this, I’m a commuter student. Please help?

Chaim Nissel, Psy.D., Director of the Counseling Center and Suicide Prevention Coordinator at Yeshiva University answers:

Feeling unconnected and alone is certainly a common experience at the beginning of college and you can be sure that there are many other students who are also trying to develop new relationships. As a commuter student, you have less opportunity for out of classroom connections and while this makes for less natural contact time, it does not preclude developing bonds- it just means you need to put some more thought and effort into it.

It would be nice if someone came up to you and offered to eat with you, study together or hang out, but leaving it to others to find you hasn’t been working, so you need to become more active. You comment that you come off as “awkward and dorky.” Although you might feel awkward and dorky, there’s a very good chance that others are not seeing you as such and they may even be nervous around you. They might be hoping you initiate the conversation with them and may be thrilled to join you for some activity. Think about your interactions and try to push yourself to be a bit more direct in asking others if they want to hang with you.

Friendships develop when people share time together in mutual interests and/or experiences. The more time you spend with others, one-on-one or in small groups, the more likely for friendships to develop. Spending time at on-campus social events, student clubs or organizations provides a great opportunity to get to know others. You could even try to meet others in the cafeteria. Are you comfortable walking up to someone sitting alone and asking to join them? Either before or after class, ask someone how they like the class, if they want to study with you or how they are approaching a particular class assignment. These could all be springboards for some out of class contact. Although these interactions might make you anxious, trying them and pushing yourself a bit will help you develop relationships. You can also try to force yourself to initiate at least one conversation with a new person each day.

Focusing on others who have developed friendships probably makes your lack of connections even more difficult, so instead try to focus on what you can do to improve your situation. If you find that your anxiety gets in the way of meeting new people or if you try some of these suggestions and want more support, you should contact your college counseling center where they have supportive staff who would likely be able to help you.