Building Community as a College First Year | Center for Growth Therapy

Building Community as a College First Year

Ooreeel — Intern therapist

So you graduated high school and have been accepted into university as a first year, now what? You are venturing into the unknown and plan to move to a new state that you will spend the next four years of your life in. You may be saying goodbye to your childhood friends for now, but you can always see them again during breaks back home or if you plan to travel to each other’s campuses from time to time throughout the school years. But what about right now? Yes it is nerve wracking and anxiety inducing at first to consider that you will need to start all over again, in making new friends and finding a space where you feel you belong. You might be asking yourself questions like: Will people like me? Will I fit in here? How am I supposed to meet new people?

Remember that you are not alone in these fears. Just like you, thousands of other 17-19 year olds are entering university and wondering how they are going to make a place for themselves too. Those students will also be meeting new people and navigating a new environment to find where they feel supported. Here are some opportunities where you can try to find friends and begin building community as a college first year.


  • Your roommate or roommates

Prior to heading to campus, some universities will let you know who your roommate is and their contact information so that you can talk to one another before the day you move in. The university may have an online portal for you to message one another and then you can exchange numbers or social media accounts so you can communicate more easily. From there you can discuss what each of you plans to bring to campus, what you like, and generally get to know one another. Your roommate could become one of your first friends and one member of the support network you develop on campus.


  • Your Resident Advisor

The Resident Advisor (RA) is another point of contact. A dorm might only have one RA if it is a small one, or at least one RA for each floor if it is a larger dorm. The RA is someone you can go to for advice or concerns regarding university life. The RA is usually someone who you can build a friendship with when first getting to know people. Your RA may also organize small events or activities within the dorm so you and the other residents can meet one another. In addition to that, RAs can help create a welcoming and close knit environment within the dorm. Your RA may play a large part in your journey towards building community as a college first year student.


  • Dorm residents

When in the dorm, you might want to introduce yourself to the other people on your floor. Usually people will leave their doors open if they are welcoming to someone talking to them while walking by. It can be a good idea to begin introducing yourself to others sometime during move in day, especially if they are your neighbors on either side of your room. You can commiserate over the stress of getting everything moved into your rooms and the exhaustion of unpacking and organizing your things.


  • First Year Orientations

The first year orientations usually include events where you may get to know other new students. An orientation may include a lecture about what to expect and the requirements of the program or major you have chosen. It might also include a tour of campus or common buildings within the university that students often need to go to. In addition to that, there may be orientations about registering for classes, understanding financial aid, etc. Some orientations may include scheduled activities like games, for students to interact with one another within their first days on campus. During these orientations, you might want to talk to other students to begin getting to know them or finding people who have similar interests as you depending on the activities you attend.


  • Dining Halls

You can either go to dining halls with people you have met so far or on your own. If you go to one of your campus’ dining halls by yourself, you do not have to isolate yourself. Challenge yourself to ask to sit next to a group of people at a table or to sit near someone who looks open to talking. If someone has earbuds or headphones in and is on their laptop or computer, they may be busy and not as receptive to conversation right then. However if someone is sitting down eating alone or with a group of people, you can see if they are open to you sitting with them. From there you can begin talking to them and seeing if they seem like people you would like to be friends with.

It may feel awkward doing so and putting yourself out there, especially at first, but remember that you are not the only person getting to know new people. If those people are not receptive to you, it is not the end of the world. There are so many other people on campus that you can meet and interact with.


  • Club Fairs

Your university should have fairs for clubs near the beginning of the school year. This is where different clubs on campus come to advertise themselves and offer membership to students who would like to sign up to join. By attending, you can learn about the groups available, what they do, and if you would like to join them. Depending on your interests and time available outside of classes, you might be interested in joining one or multiple groups. Some examples are: theater or improv groups, community service organizations, sports clubs, anime clubs, cultural and religious organizations, etc. There are so many types of groups, organizations, and clubs offered at universities. If you have something you are passionate about, like dance, you can join a dance team or troupe on campus. Through joining a club, you can make friends with people you have something in common with. This can also be beneficial because you will likely be exposed to students from every year instead of only other first years. From having a common interest, you can learn more about the people in the club or organization and become closer. These may be people who you spend a significant portion of your college years with, especially if you hang out with one another outside of the group. Because you have this club in common, you may develop a close knit group of people you are comfortable with via the club. These clubs or organizations may be integral for building community as a college first year. With support from peers, students in other years who can offer advice from experience, and staff members who may be able to offer resources to you, organizations or clubs may become close social groups for you. They may become a part of your personal community on campus and a family away from home.


  • Classes

Classes are another opportunity for you to make friends with your peers. Some professors will want you to talk with classmates in pairs or groups to discuss concepts from the class. Other professors might ask you to work in pairs or groups outside of class to complete assignments and projects. From there, you can talk with your classmates and get to know them while doing work for class.


  • Greek Life

If you have an interest in Greek life, meaning joining a sorority or fraternity, that can be another place to find a community. Sororities and fraternities themselves are sources of community for those who join them. Through them, you can create relationships with your fellow members and these organizations can increase access to professional opportunities outside of the university. For some people, the friendships they make here can be long lasting.

You will be making friends throughout your four years in college, especially as you meet friends who introduce you to their friends. It is also important to remember that you are not restricted to the people you meet in the first few weeks of your first year. Getting to know people and putting yourself out there can be scary at first, but is a major step in building community as a college first year. A common issue when trying to approach new people is the anxiety of doing so. This could stem from a fear of what could happen, like being rejected or judged by others. Those fears could be especially intense if you have a poor perception of yourself or often judge yourself. You are not alone in these fears or experiences, as many other people battle with those emotions and thoughts. Unfortunately, this can make it more difficult for you to approach others or feel safe enough to do so. If this sounds like your experience or if you struggle with being comfortable talking to new people, it could be beneficial to try therapy to address it. If you would like to begin doing so, you can schedule a session with one of our therapists here by calling 215-922-LOVE at The Center for Growth.


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