You’re Not Alone in Feeling Alone

“Get involved! Leave your door open the first few weeks! Find your lifelong friends!”

Sound familiar? Coming into college, I figured it would be easy to make friends. On a campus with over 50,000 people, it couldn’t be too difficult to find a handful of close friends, right? I certainly didn’t think so, but it ended up being harder than I expected. If you had idealistic expectations like me, you probably fell into some of the traps I did. For example:

You assume your roommates are going to become your close friends. When you’re trapped in a confined space with other people, you think you’ll end up spending so much time together and inevitably become BFFs. Unfortunately, this usually isn’t the case. If you end up with roommate(s) who you really click with, that’s great! If you don’t, that’s pretty normal. With so many people at one school, it’s unrealistic to expect that the people you happen to live with will become your closest friends.

You expect the first people you meet in a student organization to become your close friends. You go to the involvement fair, find the perfect club, and muster up the courage to attend the first meeting. You talk to a few people and consistently continue to go to the meetings. A few months in, though, you may realize you don’t really see these people much outside of the club. While it’s nice to think that you’ll easily become friends with people who share common interests, it’s not necessarily going to happen so easily.

You expect the people in your first semester classes to become your close friends. In the first few weeks of the semester, everyone’s trying to make friends. People are going out of their way to introduce themselves, exchange phone numbers, and work on group projects together. For the duration of the semester, you may consistently see the same people because you share a class with them. This doesn’t mean you’ll automatically become friends, and once the class is over, it doesn’t mean you’ll stay friends. 

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Hopefully, you’re beginning to see a common pattern here: you expect the first group of people you meet on campus to become your close friends. These are assumptions that I made my first year, and when the first semester had ended, I felt alone. I thought I had somehow failed at college by not finding a close group of friends within my first semester. When I went home for winter break, I felt isolated, and coming back to campus didn’t sound as appealing without a close group of friends to return to. At that point, I wasn’t sure what to do, but here are some things I eventually learned:

Building worthwhile relationships takes time. After knowing the same people my entire life, I had forgotten what it felt like to form new relationships with strangers, and I was in too much of a hurry to make connections. Eventually, some of the people I occasionally talked to my first semester grew to be some of my now closest friends. We ended up spending more time together and things eventually clicked. Whether you connect with someone instantly doesn’t determine whether you’ll end up being good friends, so give yourself time to get to know people.

It’s okay to let people and expectations go. In the eagerness that comes with trying to find a new group of friends, it can be tempting to cling onto the first group of people you meet on campus. You may try really hard to keep in touch with people from your first semester classes or the first few people you met at student org meetings. You may even keep trying to force a connection with your roommates that just doesn’t pan out. At some point, you have to give up. You’re not meant to be friends with everyone you meet, and you’re not obligated to stay in touch with people just because they were the first people you met when you came to campus. Chances are, you’ll end up meeting some of your closest friends later on in your college experience.

Sometimes, there’s value in being alone. During the month of winter break, I had a lot of time to reflect on my first semester, and I came to an interesting realization. One of the most exciting (and sometimes terrifying) aspects of coming to college is the newfound independence. Part of me associated independence with being alone, and that idea made me uncomfortable. In high school, I was used to being surrounded by people all day, including club meetings after school. During my first semester, when I didn’t spend as much time with other people, I learned to become more comfortable spending time with myself. Even though I eventually found my social circle, I learned the value of spending time alone and enjoying my own company. 

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Here’s my ultimate piece of advice: when it comes to finding your social circle on campus, just give it time. It’s perfectly normal and okay to feel alone sometimes, even at a school where you’re constantly surrounded by people. Eventually, as you continue to meet more people, you’ll end up finding those lifelong friends you’re searching for- and it will be well worth the wait. 

Study Smarter (Not Harder, Not Longer)

It can be discouraging when you feel like you are not doing well in your classes–the exams come back and they are not what you were expecting–to the point where you may even begin to resent them. New students in their first semester of college tend to have a lower GPA than in their second semester (it is rare for students to earn a 4.0 in college), and it’s not surprising. In addition to trying to master course content, you’re also trying to navigate a new environment, make new friends, and manage your time. Know that it is okay to not do super well on your first couple exams; you are so much more than whatever your grades might try to tell you that you are. What is important is that you start to plan how you can improve your study habits so that for the next exam, you feel ready and confident. Then, when you get that exam back, you are content with your grade knowing that you studied as effectively as possible.

So, here are a few tips to improve the way you study, especially if you are anything like freshman Austin and are thinking,

Wow, I have no idea how I could have studied more. I spent so much time preparing. I guess I am just not smart enough.

Thankfully, I eventually learned that it is not about how much time you spend studying but how effectively you use that time.

Focus, Rest, Repeat

Spending hours upon hours trying to comprehend the large quantities of information–while unintentionally getting side-tracked by scrolling through the latest Twitter drama–is probably not the best way to go about studying. I find it helpful to have distraction-free, focused time on one subject for an hour, then take a 5 to 15 minute break, letting your mind chill on it for a few. Maybe take that break time to go on a walk, answer a few texts, meditate, listen to music, or my personal favorite, consume healthy snacks. I find it helpful to change up the subjects, every hour or so that I don’t get bored with the same material.

Spend time with your professors

You have heard it before: “Go to Office Hours!” That’s true…but it is not as easy as they make it sound, right? It can be intimidating going to see your professor, especially if it is a large class. They are not as scary as they seem; they genuinely care about you as a person and as a student, and they want you to succeed in their class. It can be helpful to have questions prepared before you go, especially if you are worried about making conversation with them. At Ohio State, we have many professors with expertise in a wide variety of academia. Don’t be afraid to seek them out even just to learn more about their journey or what they are passionate about in life. Your professors can be your mentors, even if they do not work in your major’s department.

Study with friends!

It can be helpful to study with other people for classes that require memorization strategies. If you can explain things to others, it helps solidify the information in your brain as opposed to reviewing the same notes over and over again on your own. You can test and help each other understand material that clicks for you but not for someone else (or vise versa).

Catch many Z’s

As hard as it may seem, prioritize sleep! Getting rest helps our brains store the information we are trying to learn through out each day. Shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and avoid all-nighters as an effective way of studying for an upcoming exam…because they are not effective. Staying active can also help keep the stress levels down, even throughout the time when exams are looming. Physical activity doesn’t have to happen in the gym; it can be going for a walk or run, playing a sport like ultimate Frisbee or basketball, or doing pull ups on your lofted bed (be careful).

Try a few of these tips, and hopefully you will feel more confident heading into your exam, more confident heading out, and make the most of your experience at Ohio State. For more tips for success, check out the Dennis Learning Center for techniques on note taking, battling procrastination, and test taking.