Making friends is hard enough as it is without adding the highly competitive environment of college to the mix. So let me start off by saying this: strangers are just people you haven’t said “Hello” to yet. After you take that leap, the road to friendship gets easier as you continue talking – trust me.
1. Approaching Strangers: Observe & Act
Initiating a conversation or just approaching a stranger really is the most nerve-wracking part of making new friends in college. What do you say to someone you don’t know? The key to mastering the approach is to be observant and act immediately. The longer the hesitation, the more likely you are to allow your mind to convince you that the unfamiliar is way too scary. Remember, we are wired to avoid the unknown because, from an evolutionary perspective, it could have lead to our demise. Your brain wants to keep you alive!
A way to avoid all of that is to:
Observe: What is the person wearing, doing or holding?
Identify: Pick one thing that you are either curious to know more about or something you have in common that could lead to a conversation. Let’s say this person is sitting at the cafeteria eating what looks like a homemade chia pudding which happens to be your favorite dessert.
Act Immediately: Sit down besides the person and make a statement (compliments are a pretty solid place to start) and follow it up with an open ended question to spark a conversation. “Hey that chia pudding looks divine! Can I ask what’s your secret because I always get clumps in mine no matter how hard I mix that up?”
2. Building Strong Bonds: Common Goals
The advantage of attending college or university is that common goals are handed to you on a silver platter, you don’t have to go out of your way to look for them. Acing a group presentation, getting into Med school, reading the entire chemistry textbook in 3 months, these are all ideal situations for making new friends because you are after the same things. A shared-problem environment gives you something in common, so you don’t have to look very far.
3. Repeated Exposure: Familiarity & Attraction
Proximity and familiarity are key factors when building and maintaining friendships, which makes sense when you think about it. If you’re with the same people, 5 days a week, for a couple of years; connections will inevitably be made because you go through a lot of things together. In other words, once you’ve initiated a friendship, repeated exposure is going to help you develop that relationship even further.
In psychology, “the mere exposure effect describes the fact that repeated exposure makes you like someone better – and makes that person like you better, too. You’re much more likely to become friends with someone if you see him or her often.”
If you see someone that you would like to be friends with, sit next to them in class – even if you’re not brave enough to talk to them just sit next to them. If they are both on the swim team, swim in the lane next to theirs. This sounds a bit creepy when you read it, I know, but do it in moderation (as in, pick one of those examples) and it can be very helpful if you’re shy in general. Proximity also provides you with many opportunities to strike up a conversation – the key is to actively put yourself in such situations without looking borderline stalky. And hey if you like the same things – even better! Having something in common makes point number 1 a whole lot easier.