Loneliness is something that a lot of college students struggle with. I think that a lot of people have expectations when arriving at college that it is going to be the best time of their lives and that they will instantly have tons of friends to hang out with and go on adventures with.
However, the reality is that in college, it can sometimes be quite difficult to make friends, and it often feels like everyone already has a friend group except you. The truth is that a lot of people feel lonely in college, even if they don’t show it.
Being lonely in college is normal, especially if you go to school in a new place that isn’t your hometown. Here are some stories from college juniors, seniors, and recent graduates, on how they overcame loneliness and some advice to help get through it.
Loneliness is totally normal
“I believe that loneliness in college is a normal thing because every student has a unique schedule. Whether it’s being a full-time student to balancing work and school, it seems that students don’t have time to socialize outside of campus. Even before the pandemic, I had trouble meeting people at school that I could hang out with because they simply say they don’t have time.
As stressed as most students are, I can understand why they don’t want to. Tuition is expensive and taking classes with unreasonable professors can also make it a challenge. During this difficult time, I found that reaching out to people in my classes through email has helped me find friends. Although we are only meeting virtually, taking the class together and discussing the topics leads to building a stronger relationship.” – Vivian Gin, senior at California State University, Sacramento
“Feeling lonely while in college is kind of inevitable but it can serve as a learning process and helps you grow as a person. Also, once you do start making friends, it is people who are going to bring positivity to your life and that you’re able to make deeper connections with.” – Tooba Ajmeri, senior at Arizona State University
Joining clubs or Greek life is a great way to make connections
“My freshman year in college I lived in a dorm that was mostly for second-year students. I felt lonely and struggled to make friends because most of the students around me already had established friend groups and social lives and I didn’t know where I fit in.
I pushed myself to join clubs and talk to people in the dining halls and I ended up meeting some of my closest friends that way. I realized that making friends isn’t always comfortable and that loneliness is a normal part of the college experience so it’s okay to embrace that and use it to challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone.” – Irene Chen, senior at University of California, Santa Barbara
“As a first-generation college student, moving to a new city for school was so fun and exciting but something I wasn’t ready for was how lonely it could be. I was going back to my hometown frequently and not letting myself experience college as I had always imagined because I was intimidated and felt alone.
After my first semester, I decided I was going to make a stronger effort to become a part of the community to feel more connected. I started by joining clubs related to my major to meet more people who shared my passion and started to make connections. I also wanted to make connections that were not only academically based. That is when I decided to join a sorority, so I could feel more connected to my university on a larger scale.
In joining my sorority, I found such strong inspiring women who push me to work hard and strive to be a better version of myself every day. I built my support system at school and I still had so much support from my family and friends in my hometown. I stayed connected to my brother and parents on FaceTime.
I would call my friends while I walked to class and just make time to talk to people that made me feel comfortable and safe. If you’re not a little uncomfortable, you’re not pushing yourself to grow enough.” – America Cardenas, recent graduate, Arizona State University
“Moving across the country for school to a state where I knew nobody was pretty hard for me because I immediately felt like I was alone. I think the way I overcame that was getting out of my comfort zone to try and get to know as many people as I could.
Joining a sorority immediately helped me because it didn’t just give me friends, but a family to lean on whenever I needed it most. Ever since then I’ve gotten so many rewarding and meaningful experiences that it’s made me more comfortable in who I am thus making it easier to feel more comfortable around others. I’ve also gained so many mentors that have helped me become a stronger, more independent person.
So my advice for someone struggling with that feeling of loneliness, know that taking risks or saying hi to someone could be the start of an amazing friendship. Open yourself up to those possibilities because your kindness could go a long way for someone else.” – Sophie Robinson, junior at University of California, Santa Barbara
Go to office hours (even zoom office hours) and get to know your professor and other students
“Because college is busy and there might not be time to make friends as easily, I found that going to professor and TA office hours helps a lot in enabling me to meet classmates that I have never talked to before. When I had a lab partner or someone to work with, I felt less lonely and we always were able to bond over the class. I also found that going to the gym was a good way to see people that you don’t see very often.
Also, clubs and different recreational teams like dance, etc. are super social activities and within these clubs or activities, there are often frequent socials and group activities that can help someone deal with loneliness.” – Rebecca Li, senior at University of California, Berkeley
Be yourself and the right people will come to you
“I think college is a major transition period. Transitioning into adulthood is hard as is, and college can feel like a weird mix of still a kid but not grown. I think it’s the time we learn a lot about ourselves. Because of this, I struggled to figure out who I was and where I fit in, now that I was in a world where the high school stigma wasn’t relevant anymore.
Finding the right group of friends was a major challenge for me. I think the most important thing I did for myself stopped trying hard to get people to like me or be around me, and instead find myself, and eventually, the right people gravitated toward me. I think honestly the best way to overcome loneliness is to become your own best friend. Then, the best people naturally come your way.” – Halle Barner, recent graduate, Arizona State University
“I think experiencing loneliness in college is quite common. College is a time where individuals start to discover themselves, but also it’s a time where we often feel lost, not knowing where we should be heading. However, with such experience, I think rather than running away from it, we should turn around and embrace the feeling of loneliness.
I think some of my proudest growth occurred at a time of loneliness. Too many people try too hard to mold themselves to become “normal” so they can fit in and find more acquaintances. But in such actions, it pushes you more toward true loneliness because you lose your sense of meaning and just simply follow the crowd. I would encourage everyone to highlight their uniqueness and be proud of it.
During the time of the pandemic, I highly recommend people to be the person that reaches out first. Making new connections is awesome but don’t forget to strengthen the relationships you already have.” – Qike Wang, junior at Arizona State University
Remember that loneliness is temporary
“First, know the feeling of being lonely goes away. It may take a few months (mine was about two), but it disappears. At first, it’s so hard because you meet a ton of people right off the bat and you’re trying to make friends, yet it might seem and feel that at the end of the day you’re not sure you fit in with any group.
At the moment it may feel like forever, but in a few years looking back it feels like someone flipped a switch. One day I felt so alone and then I had friends I couldn’t imagine not having. The best way to handle it is to keep putting yourself in social situations because one of those times, you’re going to find the right people and you won’t feel so lonely anymore.
When feeling lonely, if you feel more comfortable at the moment to be alone for a minute, take that moment. If you feel that you should put yourself out there, then go and see who you meet. It’s an uncomfortable growing pain, but it’s part of the college experience that leads you to find forever friends.” – Emily Rentschler, recent graduate, Arizona State University
“College is difficult, especially in the beginning. Not only did I know almost nobody, but it’s a new place, a new living situation, new people around you with often different experiences and opinions, and all of this seems foreign and uncomfortable. On top of that our imagination of what college is has been shaped for years by the media as this amazing place, only fun, with little studying environment.
So immediately our expectations are shattered and it feels hard to meet people causing us to become lonely. Luckily for me, my school had an amazing orientation program that I am extremely glad I went to because I immediately met 15+ people and became pretty good friends with them. And those friends I made were in the area around where I live which made it easier to meet their roommates as well. I would say college is a web of people.
Unlike high school, there aren’t cliques as much, or only one group of friends, but instead there are so many people, so you randomly meet people here and there. So as a result, it feels super lonely and hard at first because walking around campus, I felt like I know almost nobody, but then you remember that the campus is 20,000 people or more and that it’s okay that you don’t recognize everyone. But also, as time passes you start to get to know way more people which helps make it feel more and more like home.
For me meeting friends of friends, joining a club, playing intramural sports, and getting involved in an on-campus job over my first two years helped so much in meeting many people and making it feel like home.” – Jacob Young, senior at California Polytechnic University
Don’t compare your college experience to other people’s
“I would say it’s good to hear about your friends’ experiences at other colleges but at the end of the day, don’t compare your experience to theirs. College is about having a fresh start and everyone is just as eager to meet new people as you are!
Making friends takes time as does adjusting to the academic expectations, but everything always works out and there is usually a good amount of resources (advisors or centers) available if you feel like you are struggling and need some support.” – Julia Tomasulo, junior at University of California, Santa Barbara
Even when you’re around people, you can still feel lonely — and that’s okay
“As a senior, I am fortunate enough to have already formed lifelong friendships and found my people that I am constantly surrounded by while living in a sorority house. However, I still seem to feel lonely. Currently, I feel lonely walking around campus that is lifeless half the time because the majority of students take their classes online.
I feel lonely in lecture halls because the closest I can get to classmates and peers is six feet. However, loneliness hits the hardest when I am taking classes virtually over Zoom where I crave physical interaction with my professors and other classmates.” – Izzy Tabs, senior at Syracuse University
Creating a schedule can help
“When I first moved out of home and into college, I often felt lonely and felt discouraged each day. To overcome this, I created a schedule and fill out my days with busy work. I would go to work, class, pick from a handful of workshops that I was interested in to attend, attended club meetings, and went to office hours to get to know my professors better.
This made my day go by really fast. By the time I was done with all of this, it was late already and all I could think of was how tired I was and would go to sleep. I also FaceTimed my family occasionally. Face to face is more recommended than a phone call, but keeping a busy week with lots of activities that require interaction was what helped me most.
If you don’t feel busy enough, get a job, or connect with people on LinkedIn to schedule phone chats. Any interaction with other people, even if they’re not your close friends, can help combat loneliness” – Jonathan Chavez, recent graduate, University of California, Santa Barbara
Take time to call or visit family
“I deal with loneliness by making time to call and visit family. They live in Arizona with me so I try to see them every weekend and hang out with them. Being with family makes a difference and makes me feel less lonely. Also, I always make time to hang out with my friends on the weekends.
If they don’t reach out, I will reach out to them because human interaction is so important. It usually works out and I end the day feeling very refreshed. Being with other people is part of maintaining good mental health and that’s so important especially during this time when a lot of us are just social distancing and staying home.” – Amber Li, senior at Arizona State University
The bottom line is that everyone in college is in the same boat, just trying to find themselves and make friends. People are usually very open to making friends at any point in college, you just might have to reach out and make more of an effort than you previously had to do to make friends.
By Madeleine Korn