The start of a new term can be a significant challenge for students, especially if it marks their first year at a new school. Perhaps they’ve moved to a new city and they’re away from the familiar faces that bring them comfort and encouragement. If it’s their first time living on their own, they could be struggling to find the activities and resources that make their new places feel like home. And even if they’re attending college in their hometown, they’ll be surrounded by hundreds of new people on their new campus, and they may be missing the friends that didn’t decide to attend they same school. Thus, despite the possibility of remaining connected via phone calls and social media, they may find themselves disconnected, unsure, and perhaps lonely.

Yet, despite the challenges, building a new network of friends can be one of the most rewarding experiences of college life. Below, we’ve shared some ideas, summarized from Jane S. Halonen and John W. Santrock’s Your Guide to College Success: Strategies for Achieving Your Goals, Seventh Edition, that can help students make new connections. By taking these steps, students can work towards building new relationships and, hopefully, reduce the feelings of loneliness that may arise. If you come across students in this situation, share these ideas with them:

  • Take part in groups, organizations, and volunteer opportunities where you’re likely to meet people whose values and interests align with yours. In addition to being able to discuss and share the things you hold in common, you’ll be participating in activities that will naturally provide things to talk about. To get started, check out campus bulletin boards, the college catalog, or your school’s newspaper or website for ideas.
  • Step outside your regular habits or routines, and meet up with new people for meals, exercise, study, and other extracurriculars. Though you may initially feel uneasy, you’ll eventually feel more comfortable—and benefit from the new friendships that you’ve made.
  • Strike up conversations with new people. If you aren’t used to small talk and often find yourself stuck on what to say, prepare some topics of conversation to get the ball rolling. Questions like “What classes are you enjoying this term?” or “Do you play sports? What do you like to play?” can open up a door for discussion in a friendly manner. Likewise, if you notice someone holding a book, instrument, or other intriguing item, you can ask them about it; most people appreciate it when others show interest in the things that interest them.
  • Consider the qualities you want in a friend and strive to be that kind of person, too. Traits such as good listening skills, demonstrations of appreciation and interest, and a positive attitude are attractive to others and will help you build relationships with them.
  • Use social media wisely. Though posting and reading status updates, checking out photos, and playing online games can be fun, don’t let those online activities replace the time you spend with people in person. Also: choose your online friends carefully, and don’t overshare personal information that could leave you vulnerable.
  • If you sense yourself beginning to feel lonely, be proactive about organizing or scheduling fun and meaningful activities that will strengthen your connections with others and help reduce feelings of boredom or isolation.
  • Still need help connecting? Visit your school’s counseling services office or seek out a mental health professional. They are trained to help you deal with your loneliness and can provide you with strategies for meeting and building relationships with others. (Halonen and Santrock, pp 108-109)

Reference: Halonen, Jane S. and Santrock, John W. 2013. Your Guide to College Success: Strategies for Achieving Your Goals, 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

What are your suggestions for building new and positive connections on campus? Write your ideas in the comments section below or submit them to thinktank@cengage.com.