One of the most exciting — and simultaneously most nerve-wracking — things about starting college is all the new people you’ll meet. It’s like starting elementary school (or middle school, or high school) all over again. Who will you sit with at lunch? Who will you hang out with at parties? Who will your roommate be? And will you get along?
Back in the day, students might’ve had to get to know each other the old-fashioned way: in person, or over slower forms of communication (for many current students, the instantaneous back-and-forth of direct messaging is preferable to email in its speed).
Today, one of the first things students do is search each other up on social media.
At Orientation, they specifically recommended that you resist the urge to do so prior to meeting in person, or at least having a few conversations over phone or email. While it makes sense to try and avoid forming early misjudgments and prejudices based on incomplete information, the ease with which we can share and receive information about our future friends can be hard to resist.
And despite what some people might tell you, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The class Facebook groups, for example, are a go-to source for students and parents alike. Even before Decision Day (May 1st, the day most schools require you to commit to the one you’ll be attending), it was full of self-introductions — often concluding with the person’s Instagram and/or Snapchat usernames — and early questions. Though it’s a good starting point to find more information on academic/extracurricular/employment opportunities and more official resources such as school-run websites, users should be wary of both deliberate and unintentional spreading of misinformation, as well as the usual trolling. (Facebook also gives you access to Messenger, which allows for one-on-one contact with a potential roommate or an upperclassman, but more on that later.)
For some people, exchanging social media information is superficial: a quick way to drive up your follower count. For others, it’s a way to start getting to know individuals through a different medium, outside of the online group. Either way, it’s a fun method to display snapshots of your personality and lifestyle, as well as keeping in touch with people you might not see in person as often, such as friends attending different schools.
Group chats, meanwhile, flow more like a discussion. It’s easier to get to know the other participants due to the smaller group size (GroupMe maxes out at 200 members), and you’re more likely to make a meaningful connection with someone who shares your major or dorming assignment than one of the almost 17,000 members of the Class of 2021 group.
The Pharmacy class GroupMe, for example, recently hit 100 members (!!!); that’s 99 classmates I can contact for academic or social purposes, many of whom will likely be able to help me out since we’ll be in the same program. I’m also part of the out-of-state and Pharmacy/Honors College group chats, which come in handy when trying to figure out logistics for getting to orientation or specific program requirements.
Plus, what we have in common can be a foundation for potential friendships.
Whether you have been diagnosed by a medical professional or simply suffer from garden-variety butterflies, you’re not alone if social interactions, or even the thought thereof, make you nervous. (Side note: I’ll be referring to these connections as potential “relationships,” which can be platonic or romantic or anything in between.)
It’s especially easy to feel like you don’t fit in when you’re just starting to explore a new environment, surrounded by strangers. Since you don’t know these people and they don’t know you, there’s no way to tell whether you’ll get along particularly well. Rutgers in particular is a pretty big pond, so how do you know which fish will be your companions and which will be your nemeses?
There are multiple reasons upperclassmen and administrators stress the importance of getting involved in the on- and off-campus communities, and making friends is one of them. With the bonus of another objective to focus on — whether it’s a chess tournament or a volunteering initiative or a photography final project — you’ll have things to occupy your mind that are unrelated to the social aspect of the activity, and the shared goal can help bring the group closer.
That said, showing up and participating won’t automatically gain you new friends: at best, these people will become acquaintances to whom you can wave hello or strike up superficial discussions. If you’re interested in deeper connections, you do have to put yourself out there, as cliched as this advice might sound, and demonstrate that you’re willing to put in the effort and attention it takes to maintain a relationship.
Even if you’re not sure where to start, the aforementioned involvement makes it easy. Whether you’re alphabetizing bookshelves or watching anime or playing Ultimate Frisbee, you can ask what got them interested in joining this organization. Initiating contact is often the hardest part; most people want to make friends just as much as you do, and they’ll be more than happy to engage with you.
Another thing to keep in mind is that online friendships don’t always translate seamlessly to real life. While your conversations may flow smoothly through text, it can be more difficult when you’re worrying about body language and tone of voice. It probably doesn’t help if you’ve already extensively compared all your favorite video games and TV shows, leaving you struggling to find something else to talk about.
But there’s a reason you felt like you could become friends. Once you make it past the initial awkwardness that comes with any new relationship, you might just find that you’ve met someone who will be an integral part of your life for the next few years and even beyond.