The adjustment to a new environment is hard enough without the added struggle of making and maintaining new friendships. When getting ready to leave for college, making friends is normally not an obvious concern for most people. It is a common assumption that since all freshmen are in the same situation, it should be easy to make friends. So why isn’t it? Freshmen struggle to make friends every year, and the constantly increasing social media use is not helping.
Leaving the people you grew up with, even for an amazing opportunity, is an extremely difficult task for many freshmen. The ability to reach out to these friends whenever necessary does not make it any easier to adjust to life at school. When my parents left for college they left home with no way to contact their friends except a communal phone in dorm hallways and some stationery to write letters. Our generation leaves for college without ever really leaving home or our childhood friends.
Social media allows us to communicate constantly. We take time out of our busy schedules to make sure we Facetime our best friends every week for at least an hour. We stalk their Instagrams commenting funny things only two longtime best friends would understand. We are misusing our time. Instead of making new friends, we are busy maintaining old, far away friendships. With the amount of communication that is possible, our generation has been manipulated to believe that if we don’t take advantage of it every single day then failing to respond to a text results in a fight. We should be encouraging our friends from home to put their phones down and go live their lives so we can do the same. Talking to someone once a month instead of once a week does not mean growing apart, it means growing up.
With all of the social media that exists, it is virtually impossible to be in the dark about what is going on in our acquaintances’ lives. Being aware that everyone from home can track your every move in college, freshmen turn having fun into a competition. A friend of mine at a different institution has called me numerous times about her struggles making good friends. After a long conversation about how unhappy she is, she posted an Instagram of her with a huge smile on her face with a caption that read “thriving.” I would do the same thing. My first few nights at college, I posted story after story on Snapchat of people I had barely met, acting as though they were my best friends. Spending so much time concerned about beating our high school friends at an irrelevant competition creates an environment at college. You care less about whether you click with the people you are meeting and care more about the cool stuff they are capable of doing.
Social media can also allow us to mentally check out of our home lives before we are ready by reaching out to other incoming freshmen from respective college months before ever arriving on campus. These early contacts can create online relationships that you suspect will turn into real friendships upon arriving on campus, but that is not always the case.
I attend Lehigh University, and the student body has a high concentration of students from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Prior to arriving on campus, a girl in my dorm had reached out to other students via mutual friends and social media. She stayed in contact with them during the summer and she thought she was going into school with a good group of friends. When she got to school, she realized pretty early on that the girls she met online were not going to be her long-term friends. This made it feel like she had to start over in the friend making process, but still felt the need to remain friends with the girls she had met online. It is impossible to truly get to know someone online; it would be better if we all saved first introductions for face-to-face situations.
Making friends is a daunting task without other obstacles getting in the way. It helps to know though that whatever you are feeling as a lonely college freshman, there are other freshmen all over the country feeling exactly the same way. It is hard for people to admit that they are unhappy or lonely or scared, but at some point early in college life, everyone is.
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