Before I arrived to college I had a lot of fantasies about the dream world that was about to become my life. No parents around, no looming college admission process, and new & perfect friends. The thing is: transitioning to college is difficult for everyone. Everyone. Even the beer bros, even the people on your newsfeed who look like they’re having a smashing time.
Something I never thought about before I got to college was how you are starting off with virtually no close relationships at your new home. I was really blindsided by the fact that living amongst, what starts as, strangers can feel really uncomfortable and lonely. Your peers in high school, whether you loved or despised them, were very familiar by the end of four years if not your whole life. College drops you off with nobody to love or hate and it’s really hard to remember how you even obtain friends in the first place.
When the first week hit, everybody sprinted to groups and clung onto them like those sweet college lanyards they hand out. For me, this rapid formation put me in a state of panic. Everybody seemed to have figured out everything in a matter of a week and I seemed to be losing my key card while the sorting hat organized everyone into their respective groups. This delusion I created for myself ignored the fact that change is inevitable and I really can’t judge how other friendships seem from the outside. Some people really do find those they connect with right away, don’t we all have our coveted *first friend in college* who may turn out to be a total wacko or a lifelong friend (or both.) But the truth is, there’s no telling right at the start. Chances are, a lot of people were feeling just as lost and mixed around as I was. It makes sense not to have close friends right outta the gate, because close friendships are like slow-cooked pork: they need time to get juicy!
Being able to walk away from first semester with even one or two friends who actually support you and want to get to know better is a feat and all we can really ask for. Although it’s not lovely to admit, starting college is a time of judgement and insecurity (the two are friends after all.) I still have to remind myself not to write people off right away, or panic that I haven’t met the entire student body (“my best friend could be walking around out there and I’m just sitting here with these chums!”). Try to reach out to all kinds of people: you’ve got a whole new playground to find people different from yourself and learn from them. Feel free to distance yourself from people who don’t make you feel welcome or valid: although friendships seem life or death when you seem to be only wrangling a few, don’t hide yourself away with a friend that doesn’t make you feel good and yourself.
And so with that, first semester was a really tricky balance of telling myself YOU HAVE NO FRIENDS and then THAT’S REALLY ACTUALLY OKAY. And no matter where you are, I hope you can pull up a chair in that sentiment, if only for a moment. Starting college can be a hot mess. Being able to accept the difficulty, with friends and so many other things, was my first step to gaining comfort and happiness. Somehow we arise out of the rubble, taking our loses and grasping onto a couple wins: and keep making it work. And when you’re feeling particularly disheartened, just remember there’s always another fallen soldier out there doing desperate laps around the dining hall trying to find where to sit (re: WHERE ARE YOU?)
Felicia Fahey PhD
Felicia is a comprehensive educational consultant. She works with college bound students of all ages close to home, across the country and around the globe.