I remember going to college expecting to make some of the best friends of my life. It had always seemed that way — you have nice high school friends, but gradually they fade out of the picture and your college friends dominate your life. Wasn’t that the way it was supposed to be?
As I arrived at school and plunged into the rigorous academic environment that was promised in the Princeton brochure, the social scene surprised me in some way. There were the usual kinds of people I expected — the jocks, the preps, the econ majors — but not the friendships I was looking forward to.
I had dining hall buddies (people to eat and swap jokes with), and homework buddies (people to frantically share answers on problem sets with), but there was no gang of girls sharing secrets and supporting each other the way there was in high school. I compared notes with other friends and they agreed; for one reason or another, no one had as close friendships in college as they did in high school.
It seems that high school is an altogether more social experience than college. The higher you rise in education, in fact, the more solitary and independent you’re expected to be, so if you get to grad school you’re basically holed up in your library cube all day with little contact with the outside world.
People in college are independent and driven. They have career goals and they always have things to do and places to be, most of which don’t involve bonding. Even those so-called bonding sessions you think you are having seem like goals on the way to becoming the perfect, accomplished college student. That’s how the friendships seem to evolve as well: we need people to eat with, so we form dining-hall groups. We need people to help us with our work, so we form study groups. We need to bond with our sports team, so we hang out with other team members.
Friends just for the sake of friends are relatively rare.
College, in some ways, can be a lonely life. But that doesn’t mean connecting to people is impossible; you just need to know where to look.
Instead of just being drawn to the people on your hall out of geographic convenience, you’ll have to do a little sleuthing to find people who share your interests. Join a club related to what you feel passionate about. Chances are there’s a club on your campus that suits your interests, from literary magazines to ethnic identity groups to dance or film enthusiast organizations. If you’ve got problem-set buddies, that’s great, but maybe not everyone is taking the class because they love the subject. Seek out people in the class who really like what you do and talk about the homework together. Don’t just follow the crowd so you’ll have someone to party with on weekends — do a little extra work to find people you feel compatible with, and have lunch with them once or twice a week. That way, you can connect with people even if you don’t live close to them.
One thing you don’t want in college is to be hanging out with people who don’t care whether you fail or succeed, who only want to be with you as a step towards some other goal. Seek out people who will applaud your triumphs and sympathize with your hardships, and your social life on campus will be a vastly more rewarding one.