College is a new beginning—a chance to pursue new interests, make new and different friends and discover the true you. Part of this discovery process will depend on the types of people you choose to keep company with. If the prospect of making new friends seems daunting, don’t worry—you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably in the majority.
In high school, crossing the cafeteria to say “hi” to someone you didn’t know was probably unheard of. Thankfully, college is a lot different. Need an opener? Why not start with “Hi, my name is….” or “Mind if I sit here?” Chances are, the person you’re talking to was hoping someone like you would say hello.
College offers a wide variety of clubs to suit nearly every interest. Whether it’s academic, religious, community service-related or recreational, we bet you can find something that will strike your fancy. Joining an athletic activity, student government or an arts-related group will take your college experience to the next level. You’ll gain leadership experience, feel what it’s like to be part of a team, discover new talents and further develop those you already possess. Only a part of your time at college will be spent in the classroom, so it’s up to you to go out there and explore the unknown. Clubs and activities give you a built-in social network—the person signing up in front of you to work on the campus radio station may turn out to be a friend for life. So learn how to swing dance, lend a hand to the community or get political. You’ll be glad you did.
We’ve all found ourselves in an awkward social situation at some time. The good news is you don’t have to be an outgoing social butterfly-type in order to make new friends. Just keep the following tips in mind:
Make eye contact. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised at how many nervous people look at their shoes or in the other direction while conversing. Looking someone in the eye while speaking with him or her shows that you’re engaged in the topic and interested in what he or she has to say.
Check your posture. Do you stand up straight or hunch over? One posture implies confidence while the other could give people the idea that you just want to disappear.
Uncross your arms. Holding your arms around or across your body screams “keep away!”—not the best message to send when you want to make friends. Keep your arms naturally at your side, feel free to gesture when appropriate and even tap your new friend on the arm for emphasis if the timing feels right.
Ask questions. Standing next to a new acquaintance and experiencing that weird silence? Ask the person something about him/herself—where he/she’s from, how he/she likes his/her roommate so far, what he/she plans to major in … it works every time.
Don’t give one-word answers. If someone asks you directions to a building on campus, don’t just point and mumble, use it as an opportunity. Maybe you have a class in the same building—you can say, “I’m taking Italian there. What about you?” You’ll probably find you have something in common.
Take off the headphones. The new Jenny Lewis song you downloaded may be hot (okay, maybe not), but if you’re plugged into an electronic device, your chances of someone approaching you go from 100 to zero faster than you can say “boy band.”
Smile. We know you’ve been practicing your hardened, jaded New Yorker death stare all summer, but when you smile it tells people that you’re warm, friendly and, best of all, approachable. Now just make sure there’s no spinach in your teeth and you’ll be good to go.
Be Mindful of “Personal Space.” Some people don’t mind if you stand very close to them, while others might be offended or feel intimidated. A good, comfortable distance for speaking to someone is three to four feet. Also, be mindful that not everybody is okay with physical greetings (i.e. hugging, touching an arm or shoulder, double-cheek kissing). By respecting a person’s space they’ll be more likely to engage you in conversation in your first and future encounters.