I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about my college experience lately. As my graduation date in May draws near, I can’t help but think back to the ups and downs of the last two years. I’ve accomplished a lot since moving to Nashville for college, like overcoming my anxiety, starting a nonprofit, and getting good grades. Despite these things, I can only think of one phrase to accurately describe my experience: I’m lonely at college.
During the first few weeks of my freshman year, I felt pretty good about my social situation. I made friends with a group of girls on my floor from my dorm, and I felt like I finally had a group. But we ended up drifting apart after a month or so. My roommate and I were cordial, but we weren’t best friends by any means. I tried to make more friends by going to school events and even joining a sorority, but none of my endeavors were very successful. I felt like people had already formed their social groups by the second month of freshman year, and I had no hopes of infiltrating them. I spent a lot of time in my dorm talking to my mom and boyfriend on the phone and doing homework to distract myself from the fact that I was incredibly lonely at college.
Before the start of my sophomore year, I moved off campus. I knew this would isolate me even more, but I had just started my nonprofit, and I was hopeful that I would make friends with the new members. This didn’t quite happen. Luckily, I became friends with two of my roommates. But I still didn’t have a group, no matter how hard I tried. I can’t tell you how many times I asked people out for coffee or to go see a movie. They were always too busy with their other friends.
Now, it’s my third and final year at college, and not much has changed. I have realized, though, that the reason I haven’t been able to make many friends is because my values are just different than those of my peers. While most college kids are into socializing, partying, and entertaining themselves, I’m more focused on my schoolwork, my family, and my nonprofit. Of course, I enjoy low-key social events with friends sometimes, but socializing isn’t my number one priority.
Loneliness is an interesting thing, because you can be alone without feeling lonely. On the other hand, you could be in a room full of people but feel like the loneliest person in the world. When I lived at home, I spent a lot of time “alone” in my room. But I didn’t feel lonely very often. I think it was because I could hear my mom cooking dinner downstairs, my dad mowing the lawn, and my sister watching TV. I knew that I had my family close by– people that cared about me and loved me unconditionally. At college, I would be in a sorority chapter meeting with 200 other girls but feel totally alone.
I’ve also noticed that our generation is very close-minded when it comes to making new friends. It is something that I desperately wish I could change about millennials. It seems like once people have established their friend groups, there’s no hope for being included. And then there’s social media, which has undoubtedly worsened the situation. I am constantly bombarded with pictures of people gallivanting around town with their friends and studying abroad in exotic destinations. I read Facebook posts from people talking about how wonderful their college experience has been and about how many great friends they have made. I know that social media is an exaggeration, and people only post about the good times, but it still gets to me.
Deep down, though, I know I’m not the only person. There are a lot of people out there that feel the same way. In fact, according to the American College Health Association, 64% of students said that they felt lonely at college. Another study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine hypothesized that “the relationship between isolation and social media is shaped by how Facebook and other sites depict highly idealized representations of happy lives. Such social media posts may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives.” So I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way. It’s just that no one talks about it.
I get annoyed when people say that college is supposed to be the best time of your life. For some people, that may be true. But for many (at least 64%), it’s not. As a society, we need to dispel this misconception. It’s okay if you would rather watch a movie in your dorm than go out to a bar. It’s okay if you call your mom every day because you feel alone. It’s okay if you don’t come out of school with a tight-knit circle of lifelong friends. College is just another season. It doesn’t have to be “the best four years of your life.” You have so much of your life to look forward to, so try not to be disappointed if your college years don’t quite live up to your expectations.
I desperately wish that I could give you some life-changing advice about this, but to be honest, I haven’t learned to overcome it myself. A quick search on Google about being lonely at college will tell you to “get involved” and “meet new friends,” but it isn’t always that simple. If I could leave you with a few tips to deal with being lonely at college, I would say three things.
Put yourself out there…even if it makes you uncomfortable.
I never imagined that I would join a sorority, but a lot of people encouraged me to go through recruitment to meet new friends. I decided to put myself out there to see what would happen. Although I am no longer a member, I don’t regret my experience at all. Through joining, I met one of my best friends who was also my big sister….and I’m going to be the maid-of-honor in her wedding next year! Although I didn’t end up finding a huge group of gal pals in my sorority, I met a few really great people through my family: my big, little, and grandbig. If I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone to rush, I wouldn’t have met them, and my experience at college would have been a lot different.
Get a dog.
I know that this isn’t practical for everyone, but my roommates and I rescued a dog from the animal shelter last year. Aspen has become one of my best buddies! It’s great to have her in the house when I’m the only one home. It definitely takes some of the loneliness away.
Through The Wishes Foundation, I’ve found a purpose at college. Visiting children at hospitals puts my own problems into perspective. It also gives me a distraction when I am feeling low. I encourage you to find a nonprofit organization that you are passionate about and donate your time as a volunteer– whether it be cuddling animals at the shelter, making meals at the soup kitchen, or babysitting for a children’s shelter. You never know who you might meet, and you’ll be spending your free time in a productive and rewarding way.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with me until the end. I know that this post was long and a bit ramble-y, but I felt like I needed to share it. Sometimes, things don’t always turn out as you expected. But they might open other doors. For example, my nonprofit has given me a lot of future career ideas and opportunities– I plan on opening a princess company after I graduate. I may not have found a huge group of besties, but I found two or three lifelong friends. I also adopted a dog, and I’ll be taking her home with me in May. I guess I’m trying to say that just because your college experience wasn’t the highlight of your life, it doesn’t mean that it was a failure.
If you are feeling lonely at college, I’m here if you ever want to talk! My inbox is always open. Sending you all my love.