Don’t Scoff at University Social Events
After graduating high school, I was more than ready to move into my college dorm room at the end of summer. Unlike many prospective students in the current pandemic, I was able to visit campus a few times over that summer to explore dorm room options and submit my preferences for where I wanted to live. These visits helped me get my feet wet; I met other students and got a sense of my surroundings.
We also had new student orientation a week before classes, also known as a “get to know everybody party.” I know there is a longstanding exasperation among students with these icebreaker events, but they do serve an important purpose. It’s at these events where you first meet your new peers and classmates in a college social setting—some of these people will become good friends. And these friendships may last a lifetime.
Where am I going with this?
University activities are more important than ever as students’ options for meeting others and socializing become more limited. I am including student-run clubs and organizations in this discussion as well.
It is a lot easier to finish college and make the most out of it when you have some type of support group around you that encourages you, listens to you, and calls you out when needed. When I was in college, the students that didn’t make strong friendships or made the wrong friendships were the most likely to not finish college. It is so important to get out there and test your comfort zone.
Cultivating Relationships With Peers and Professors in the Pandemic
The problem with the current situation is that it is far more challenging to meet people and create solid foundations on which to build good friendships.
So, how do you make friends and build relationships at your college or university now? You will need to take a proactive approach. This may involve you pushing out of your comfort zone, but it will be worth it.
If you are going to college virtually, then you should try to reach out to your professor electronically. When I was in school, I would always try to get to know my professors, so I knew exactly what they were expecting and wanting from us students. This also created rapport with the professor as well which always helps. Make sure to log into your professor’s virtual office hours and have virtual face to face conversations if possible.
Pro Tip: Always, ALWAYS read the course syllabus before you ask your professor a question about the class. They usually create these to answer all the basic administrative/grading questions students typically have.
I know many people who regret not getting to know their professors. Professors are passionately dedicated to their craft, maybe the foremost thinkers on their subject, and they want to help you! Do not fall into the trap of thinking professors are just old and stuffy academics with no regard for their students. They do not judge you if you come for help, and many are thrilled when you come to chat.
Meeting Fellow Students
If you do not have the social benefit of in-person classes, you will want to schedule virtual calls or chat rooms for your classmates, club members, etc. GroupMe, Slack, and WhatsApp are all great for group chats. Email may be a good start to reach out to classmates as well.
Virtual classes will provide a difficult obstacle for cultivating relationships, but you can do it by being proactive and staying positive. If you are a little more introverted, you may not be the person throwing events together, so it is crucial that you take advantage of the opportunities presented to you: accept invitations and make a serious effort to engage. Many social interactions are over Zoom, Facetime, text, and email now, so this might be more helpful for you at the start.
If you are attending college in-person, the relationship building will still be different than in the past. With social distancing requirements and fears of transmission, many people are trying to stay away from people they don’t know. Again, you will need to take a proactive approach; you can safely social distance and still meet new people. This will take a little more preparation and creativity than it used to but will be beneficial to your overall mental health and college experience.
One silver-lining of the pandemic is a collective realization that the outdoors exists and is very therapeutic. Go on hikes, eat meals outside, go for walks with others or while listening to a podcast, play a socially-distanced sport, soak in the sun on the quad, or the rain for that matter—get out there and reap the benefits!
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
College students often struggle with the stress of being thrown into a totally new place with few or no friends, making their way on their own for the first time, managing their free time, dealing with the increased academic rigor, facing social pressure and alternative viewpoints, cementing their identity, and balancing academics with social and extracurricular activities.
As a result, depression and anxiety are prevalent, and the new challenge of college in a virtual-social distancing setting will probably not help the situation.
So, with the new challenges at college, how do you stay focused on schoolwork and keep your mental health up? Most schools have several on-campus groups aimed at student’s mental health (both peer groups and certified counselors). Many universities have also set up specific support groups related to the many current anxiety-inducing issues like the pandemic, racial inequality, and socio-economic tensions among many others, including paying for school and getting the grades you need to graduate.
Sometimes you will get so caught up in what’s going on that you will forget to complete basic tasks for your well-being: it is crucial to eat consistently and well, drink lots of water, GET ENOUGH SLEEP, have deep conversations with friends and family, and take moments for yourself to relax and recharge.
Sometimes, it may seem like there is too much going on to be able to get through the next day, or week, much less all the way to graduation. Every person gets overwhelmed now and again. The key lies in how you respond. Find productive leisure activities that will help you clear your head. If you need time to relax and think, to focus and plan, take it.
Do not feel obligated to do so much at once if it is making you miserable. If you are beginning to feel “like butter that has been scraped over too much bread,” as a beloved character in a classic fantasy series once said, it may be time to make a change or reach out for help.
Final Words of Wisdom
- Set up a schedule to bring consistency to your life and try to keep that schedule every week. Nothing is more challenging for a new college student than learning how to structure so much free time on their own.
- Control the things that you can control and have faith that the other things will be okay.
- Social media is a double-edged sword. Don’t base your happiness on social media likes or shares or reposts. It’s not reality.
- Be proactive: hang out with you friends, meet new and interesting people, get involved with student organizations and support groups, attend some of the office hours provided by your professors, set up or join study groups (virtual or in-person), take advantage of on-campus programs for mental health or counseling, and don’t let fear rule your life.
- Go easy on yourself. Perfectionism, over-competitiveness, and concentrating too much on what others think about you can be huge detriments to mental health.
With a good plan, a proactive approach, a positive attitude, less social media, and a little faith, your college experience can be fun and successful. When you get that degree in your hand, you can look back and see all the challenges you overcame to get your degree. Then you will know that anything is possible for you!
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Additional Reading and Sources
NPR: “How Friendships May Affect Student Success”
Higher Education Today: “The Rise of Mental Health on College Campuses”
Healthline: “Mental Health Problems for College Students are Increasing”