It’s the beginning of the school year, and for some, that means it’s time to make new friends. Both high schools and colleges inherently experience high turnover. Every year the senior class graduates and a newly admitted class comes in to replace their numbers. There are some students who are going to take longer than four years to graduate, and if there are graduate students at your institution, they often hang around for a while too, but the turnover is still there. So what do you do if half of your friends graduate and you’re still not done with school? Or what if you’re the new kid on the block? How exactly do you make friends?
While questions like “What did you do over the summer?” and “Where are you from?” are generally more helpful than playing any number of iterations of the “name game” during orientation, they probably won’t elicit deep and meaningful conversation. And that’s hard to do. Unlike in kindergarten when you could just go up to a classmate, hold their hand, and instantly become best friends, interpersonal relationships in high school and college are infinitely harder. Students may feel out of place, awkward, or boring, which inhibits their ability to get out of their comfort zone to make friends. Let me assure you, you belong where you are; everyone else feels as uncomfortable as you do; and there’s no such thing as a boring person, just a boring conversation.
As mentioned in the video, boring is the result of a desire to appear normal. To avoid being boring, embrace your weirdness! I went to Carleton College, a school that is known for having students who are “quirky” and “awkward.” Instead of letting this become insulting, most students on campus embraced their quirks and their awkwardness, and it led to lifelong friendships for many. Carleton graduates also frequently marry other former Carleton students. To be normal is to be boring, and quite frankly, there’s no such thing as normal. It’s a social construct that varies based on where you grew up and who you surrounded yourself with, not to mention what is highlighted in the media. The only normal that you need to be is your own brand of normal. Your fellow students will recognize that you’re not putting on a fake personality and friendships are bred in honestly.
But, please, pardon my preachiness. I know just how hard it is to turn off feelings of awkwardness and how annoying it is to be told “just don’t feel like that.” To this day I still cringe when I think about some of the particularly awkward situations I’ve been in and how I handled them; hindsight is 20/20, so they say. And social anxiety is real. Millions of individuals suffer from the fear of interacting with other people; they may believe that others are judging them, laughing at them, or generally reacting negatively to the interaction. This brings on feelings of self-consciousness, humiliation, embarrassment, sadness, and/or inadequacy. Generally, those who suffer from social anxiety disorder will avoid social situations when possible. If you suffer from social anxiety, meeting new people can be highly distressing and playing the “name game” can be downright traumatic. Consider seeking help from a professional, trusted friend, or family member if you find that the symptoms of social anxiety match your experience interacting with others.
But let’s get back to the main question: how do you make friends? While it will be more difficult for people with social anxiety, it can still be hard for others. Entering a new situation or feeling like you’ve lost all your old friends and need to replace them is hard. These conversation starters are no guarantee, but they do offer interactions more meaningful than many of those you’ll come across during freshman orientation.
Conversation Starters That Could Lead to Friendship:
- What are you most excited for about starting the school year?
- There is always something exciting about going back to school, whether it’s buying new school supplies or cheering on the football team, and people want to talk about it! Have an honest answer ready for when the conversation inevitably comes back to you.
- What are you currently reading, or what’s one book you would recommend?
- Alternatively, you could ask for a Netflix recommendation or if they’re caught up on Game of Thrones.
- Are you living on or off campus? Where?
- College is probably the only appropriate time to use this question as a conversation starter with a stranger. It also has the potential of being a short conversation, so be sure you have a follow-up (e.g. “Oh, that’s near the pool, right?” or “I’ve heard that dorm is known for wild parties.”)
- What extracurricular activities are you thinking of joining?
- You never know how much you have in common with someone until you ask. You may find another aspiring intramural ping pong player or recycling fanatic with one simple question!
- Why did you pick [name of school]?
- This question can help you learn more about what motivates the other person. Whatever you do, though, don’t steer the conversation onto the topic of money. You don’t need to know if you’re talking to a scholarship student or a trust fund student, and it shouldn’t matter anyway.
- Are you going to participate in [upcoming local or school event]?
- Maybe your town hosts a marathon and needs student volunteers or puts on free weekend concerts. If not, there’s no lack of events on high school and college campuses. If you can’t think of an event, ask if the other person plans on studying abroad or what they want to do after college.
- What classes did you register for?
- You may find that you have a class together or a similar interest in a particular subject. If not, you can continue the conversation by asking about prospective majors, ideal careers, etc.
Graduate from the casual conversation and ask someone if they want to grab coffee at the campus café or ask to sit next to someone you recognize in one of your classes. Friends aren’t generally made overnight, and many of the friends that you make during orientation week won’t stick, but with some perseverance, you’ll start making real friends in no time.