Perhaps one of the most difficult obstacles that students must overcome in college is making friends. Not just acquaintances who they spend time with, but genuine, deep, honest friends.
Many students come to Santa Clara having spent four or more years bonding with a close group of high school friends, whether it be through sports, other extracurriculars or classes. The rigid structure of life in high school combined with the comforting year-to-year consistency of student cohorts makes building friendships a relatively simple task.
In college, those structures fade away, and many students find themselves confronted with a wide-open calendar, overwhelming workload and no close friends.
Feeling lonely in college is quite common. A 2017 American College Health Association survey found that 64 percent of college students had felt “very lonely” in the past 12 months. With numbers like that, it seems necessary that more thought and attention is devoted to this crisis of companionship.
The most common solutions are for students to spend time with whoever ends up living near them, or to join a fraternity, sorority or sports team.
But proximity doesn’t equal depth.
Even many seemingly connected students feel a lack of emotional closeness with their early college friends. And the problem isn’t limited to first-year students—making close friends can be a struggle throughout college.
My high school and college friendships have been a bit atypical. I started tenth grade at a new campus and struggled to make friends. I was surrounded by people, but emotionally alone. My situation steadily improved through my junior and senior years, but I still desired more depth in my friendships throughout high school.
In college, I had the opposite experience. During my second week at Santa Clara, I met a whole group of friends at a Christian club, and many of them have remained my closest friends even as social groups shifted.
Despite my good fortune, I remember feeling isolated at times during my sophomore year. I joined a fraternity and met quality people, but didn’t quite feel at home.
Now as a senior, I have more trusting and vulnerable friendships than at any point during my life. But for most of my college experience, I have felt simultaneously appreciative of the friends around me while craving deeper connections.
Here are my tips for making close friends in college, whether you’re a first-year or senior.
First, put yourself out there and join multiple groups or activities that align with your interests. Go on an Into the Wild trip, apply to be on the leadership board of a club, go on an immersion trip, play an intramural sport or go to residence hall events. In the beginning, you’ll only have surface-level relationships, but these seedlings can later grow into deeply-rooted friendships.
Second, take an active approach to cultivating your friendships. Make a list of people you know that you might want to be deeper friends with and reach out. The fear of rejection when asking someone to hang out never fully dissipates, but I have realized that people almost always appreciate the effort. Some people on your list may be uninterested in friendship, others may become uninteresting to you or naturally fizzle out. But beautiful friendships are usually born of intentional effort.
Third, learn to befriend yourself. Although you do need friends, most social struggles are born from internal struggles. If you pursue friendship from a place of emptiness, your relationships will become transactional and need-driven. When you are secure in your identity, you can love your friends not for what they do for you, but for who they are.
Rather than thinking “this person makes me happy,” you can think, “when we hung out, we were happy.” This subtle shift in language can allow you to be more secure in your identity and drop some of the anxiety about what others think of you.
Remember, the one friendship that will continue throughout life is your friendship with yourself.
One final note on friendship: It’s normal, healthy and inevitable to have different people fill different roles in your life at different times. I like to call this landscape of friendships your “friendscape.” Your friendscape will naturally evolve as you grow closer to some people and more distant from others.
Rather than clinging to friends solely based on routine and past experience, you can recognize when it’s time to change who you spend time with, and practice being present with the people in front of you.
When you reflect back on college, your friendships and social experiences will likely be far more memorable and impactful than any class. I’ll remember a late-night trip to BJ’s, camping in Yosemite and getting lost in a neighborhood near Santa Cruz far more than any trip to the library. So put down the books, grab a friend and make a memory.