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Feeling lonely at college? Here are 7 tips that may help

Alone on campus

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John Touhey - published on 08/23/23

If you were feeling desperately hungry, you wouldn’t stop looking and asking for something to eat till you found it. The same principle applies with friendship.

It is that time of year when college students are heading back to campus to begin the academic year. This can be a particularly stressful time for new students because they have to adjust to a more intense academic life. They also feel the pressure to make friends fast.

Maintaining perspective

Whether you are a new arrival or an old timer, loneliness will probably be an issue you face at some point. You may look around and be tempted to think that everyone else has friends except you. The fact is that you are not alone, however. Numerous studies have found that loneliness is all too common on college campuses. In one 2017 survey, 64% of students said that they had felt “extremely lonely” at some point in the school year.

If you haven’t made any friends at college yet, that doesn’t mean you are inherently unlikeable or that there is something wrong with you. There are plenty of other students on campus who are feeling just as lonely as you.

Making friends is not always easy, but hopefully the following tips can help.

1INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO CLASSMATES

The first lesson in Making Friends 101 is simple: Say hi to your classmates and introduce yourself by name.

It is quite common for students to go through an entire semester without knowing a single one of their classmates’ names, especially on large university campuses. Why is that?

Even as you get older it will sometimes feel like there is an unbridgeable chasm between you and the stranger next to you. The truth is that the “chasm” is easily crossed. Usually a smile and a, “Hi, I’m —. What’s your name?” is enough to break the ice.

Knowing the names of your classmates will make it much easier for you to approach each other to chat outside of class. Every friendship naturally starts with an introduction.

If you are not a natural conversationalist, we also have tips that can help you in that area.

2USE YOUR RESOURCES

You don’t have to invent the wheel when making friends. Every campus provides opportunities to meet others, so make use of them. Those opportunities will include:

  • Study groups
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Student groups
  • Volunteer opportunities

Maybe you don’t consider yourself a “joiner,” but it can never hurt to check out a group that looks interesting or helpful. If you feel shy or awkward in large groups, then seek out smaller gatherings.

3GET EXERCISE

“Being physically active reduce(s) social loneliness,” according to a recent German study of university students.

Even if you aren’t a skilled athlete there are usually casual intramural leagues on campus — covering everything from softball to Ultimate Frisbee. Many colleges also have climbing walls, fitness classes, weekend hiking groups and other activities where you can improve your own physical and mental wellbeing and meet others.

4GO TO CHURCH

Your local church or campus Catholic center is the best place to acknowledge the need you have for human relationships and express the pain you feel when your desire is not fulfilled.

Jesus understands exactly how you feel as he has been in the same spot you are now in. There is no place lonelier or more desolate than the cross. Remember that you already have a Friend who loves you and feels compassion for you.

Your church, Catholic center, or prayer group is also a place where you can meet others who are in the same boat as you. Returning to tip #1, make sure you hang out after Mass or Bible study and introduce yourself to people!

5BE HONEST

Your college has counseling and advising services to assist you in your search for connection. And your campus ministry and local parishes have youth ministers and priests who are there to serve your spiritual needs. Talk to them!

Be honest about the problems you are having and about your need for others. Trying to resolve the problem completely on your own can be like self-medicating when you are sick – never the best idea.

6BE WISE

Unfortunately, you will occasionally run into people or groups who know that you desperately want to belong and are willing to take advantage of your situation. Don’t let your need for companionship override your common sense.

If you sense that something is off in a relationship, pay attention to that. Again, this is where the advice of a counselor, priest, or campus minister can be useful.

7STAY PERSISTENT

There are going to be times when you are snubbed, experience rejection, or feel used. This happens to all of us. Being in that situation feels terrible – and it is perfectly reasonable to acknowledge your negative feelings. Try not to let the experience define you, however, or let it ruin your college experience.

Remember there is something even more intense than the pain you feel in the moment — and that is the desire that you have to be in relationship with others. The biggest mistake you can make is to get hurt my someone and then decide you don’t really need friends and can go it alone. That is a lie. As beings created in the image and likeness of God, we need human relationships as much as we need food, water, and oxygen.

If you were feeling desperately hungry, you wouldn’t stop looking and asking for something to eat until you found it. The same thing applies when looking for friendship. Be persistent and never give up!

A final word of advice

Finally, try to remember that the loneliness you are currently feeling is not just a symptom of your lack of friends. In fact, even if you make a thousand friends in college, the core of that loneliness will remain with you. That sense of loneliness is, in fact, a great gift because it is your heart crying out for God.

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