Oberlin Blogs

How to Make Friends in College

September 4, 2013

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

I love advice. Everyone's got it, and luckily, we share it (sometimes too often). But sometimes we totally need it. Like this week, the week that marks the first seven days of the class of 2017's college career.

To get you in an advice-y sort of mood (but also to make you cry a lil bit), you should first watch this super awesome video Zach Christy and I made during move-in with all the amazing Oberlin parents moving in their students last Tuesday:

One particular parental quote stuck with me, and semi-prompted this blog post: "Talk to everybody, meet everybody, that's the best thing about Oberlin." This parent is SO RIGHT, though. Oberlin's as awesome as it is because of the people here. I speak from decades of experience with Obies: Obies are so cool. You want to be friends with all of them. Really.

Except that when you get right down to it, making friends is really hard. Orientation feels like a haven of safety and awesomeness where you can meet any/everyone. Most everyone is new to Oberlin, and that means you're all starting at a baseline of NEW!people. Granted, social media might have helped jumpstart this process, but once you're on campus there are Real Humans who Live and Breathe and Talk and Do Things that you can meet and that can be really scary. Especially when all the returning Obies come back to campus and already have friends and hugs and such. Been there. Done that. Lived to write this blog post (and also this one, where I love all my Oberlin friends 4ever).

The other half of the prompt for this post was the editor of our alumni magazine walking into our shared creative suite this morning asking, in true editor form, the title of this post as an inquiry. He started writing down our advice on a post-it note; I opened a document and started composing a blog post. And then, of course, I turned to my dear internet pals to help construct a simple guide to making friends in college which got a CRAZY AWESOME set of responses, which I've broken down into three parts below.

Listen to your mother (also known as the Kindergarten rules)

  • Be a human. "Say hi, smile at people, listen to them when they talk, and ask questions about things they're interested in." AD Hogan '13 passed along this advice from Momma Hogan, and I can not co-op knock hard enough to this one. Adult life hack: be nice to people. Also, your parents are pretty smart.
  • The most important thing is showing up. And for the purposes of making friends, saying hi. Usually it'll lead to an interaction that's fine... or maybe you say something awesome and you'll be friends (or maybe you don't and you end up at odds, but that's also okay; skip down to the next section for more on that). Being friendly means that you make friends. Being polite and nice means that at the end of the day, people will remember you and feel pretty good being around you. Also, these words of wisdom from Zo Paul '15: "Realize that those people who seem far too cool might actually want to be friends with you if you give them the chance." Cool people are scary, yes, but they're just as scared as you, too.
  • Sometimes you have to wait. Waiting in line, waiting for class or concerts to begin, waiting is something we all do and it's an opportunity not to pull out your phone (put that thing away!) and rather, say hello to someone standing next to you. It's a nice thing to do. But also...
  • Be patient. "Really good friends are hard to find. Keep your options open, take risks and put yourself in situations that might not be the most comfortable or familiar to you, there's nothing to lose. If you're having a rough time, don't give up or lose hope, everyone feels like you do at some point or another, they just show it in different ways. Social situations for some people change drastically throughout their years at Oberlin. Also, for some people, learning to find satisfaction and fulfillment when you're not in social situations and working on your relationship with yourself might be an equally or more important challenge than relationships with others." (This whole paragraph was initially penned by Jeremy Rubinstein '14 and was too good to not share in full. Take his words to heart.)
  • "Every person at Oberlin is a potential (and maybe best) friend." Aries Indenbaum '09 stated this, and then followed it up with: "In order for this situation to be a thing that happens, you have to be clear about who you are, be honest, ask questions, be silly, and join groups that foster community." Yes. Yes. And yes.
  • Always share your cookies! Yes, the following image was sent to me in response to the prompt I posted on Facebook. Yes, you should take it very seriously, because three people told me a version of this bit of advice: share the cookies your parents send you, be the person with a cookie sheet on your hall, and always always group around the tasty things in your co-op. Alcohol as a social lubricant is so passe, cookies as a social lubricant: always and forever.


Strong feelings


  • At Oberlin, you can make friends with someone based on a good conversation. That doesn't that you'll be in agreement necessarily, but a respectful give-and-take of ideas makes you think bigger, get fired up, and want to do something about it.
  • Don't underestimate the power of having a friend you disagree with. Kvetching happens. So do hard things. So does hating the things around you. From Mike Rauscher '11: "Good haters are hard to come by, but make some of the most rewarding friends. My advice is to go to the library on a busy weeknight, walk around complaining about what's broken and rotten and wrong, and see who sticks." From personal experience: the Saturday afternoons I spent stitching and bitching (complaining about life while knitting with a handful of friends) were some of the most cathartic experiences I had in college. Friends that help you through complicated things have the potential to be closer in the long run.

Make it happen:

  • Games. Games are a great idea. As my coworker Stacy Harrison '13 pointed out: "Do badminton. You have to talk to people in badminton!" This goes for a lot of intramural athletics things at Oberlin — even if you're not an athlete, this is a great idea. If you're not into athletics, any and every game you can think of will bring people out to play and hang out. Bananagrams. Settlers of Catan. Dominion. Warhammer. (I have personally seen all these things bring all the Obies out and crowd in the lounges. You haven't lived until you've gone through every red card in a party crate of Apples to Apples.)
  • Strike up conversations with people in your hallway or in the lounge. To help with this, you can prop your door open whenever you're around in your room; it informally turns your room into a more public space to say hello to people walking up and down the hallway while you're around (and then, of course, you can close it whenever you want and make it your own private space again, too). Similarly, take your homework into a public space. You might find a study buddy, or learn something new from someone (I found that talking about the things I was working on my first year made it easier to understand them myself — explaining your homework to someone who isn't in your class will actually help you)!
  • Meet one person and have them introduce you to someone. Your roomie is your friend. (Well, not always, but they're a way to start interacting with people.) Also, if you're a first year at Oberlin, you probably met your super awesome academic ambassador (smart/excellent upperclassperson who helps you navigate the beginnings of your Oberlin experience) and they are there to acquaint you with other cool people and things around campus. Hang out with them. They're cool.
  • Tag along with someone after class to a meal. Especially if you're in a first year seminar, you have 14 other people who are probably similarly confuzzled about how to make friends, and it's a nice way to take the academic conversations you have in class to a more casual space. If you have more than one class with someone, that's probably a hint that you should become acquainted. Hey, you have great taste in classes! Perhaps you have great taste in other things, too.
  • Join an organization (or five). Try out for anything that has a small and tight-knit community. Interests beget interests, and people in groups beget more people that you recognize on campus/find it easier to find someone to hang out with when you head to the next meeting.
  • Go to things. Anything that interests you, really. This is my own little advice tidbit that I impart to any/everyone: events supplement and encourage friend-making. You'll start to see the same people, and that's a good sign! It means you have some similar interests, or at the very least, good taste in cookies if you both end up at the Cat in the Cream for shows a few nights a week.
  • Take lots of photos. And then tell people about the pics. (We humans are so vain, and it works in our favor here.) This one came to me from Abby Nardo '92, someone who I only know because of her photography, and interestingly enough, she and I had a similar approach. I took a bunch of photos of people in college, then I became friends with them because I captured their beautiful moments (and they wanted me to capture more). It was a beautiful arrangement for everyone involved.
  • Dance. Social dance, in particular, is a place where being awkward at first is totally okay! To quote Rachel Stelmach '13: "Everyone there remembers being awkward and uncertain when they started out, so they're very likely to go out of their way to make you feel welcome." As a scared dancing person who went to lots of dances but didn't really get the nerve to get up and move until this past year, I can personally attest that just showing up to dances and sticking around the lovely spinning people is a great way to see lots of faces, listen to good music, and learn something new. This was also recommended by at least five people... so I sixth the motion that this is a Good Idea.
  • Strategize your socializing. This bit of advice comes to us via James Helmsworth '13, our editorial fellow in the communications office this year. To quote him: "The naturally gifted social animal is a very common misconception because making friends and socializing is TOTALLY unnatural. Talk to anyone in your vicinity, but know that it's just as awkward for you as it is for them."

To quote the venerable Ben Jones in one of his most memorable MIT blog posts: "Your friends will change. Let them." But to take this thought a step farther: you're going to change, too. You're going to keep on developing as a person and meeting new people every step of the way. Keep on doing, keep on smiling, and keep on saying hi. That'll get you far.

Many, MANY thanks to Meryl, Sue, Chloe, Chad, Naomi, Aries, Asher, Abby, Aaron, John, Rachel, Diana, Beth, Ed, Mike, Lilly, Ness, Jamie, Rusty, Jeremy, Jeff, AD, Kathryn, Noah, Janney, Anna, Zo, Tonya, Tim, Karine, Alyssa, Nathan, Michelle, Nadine, Lori, Matthew, Alice, Zach, Jeff, Stacy, Naomi, Jamie, Emily, and Kesha for all your thoughts and advice that went into this blog post.

Responses to this Entry

My methods were tried and true, and only slightly against dorm rules. There were three easy steps.

1. Buy (more like rescue) a ball python or other variety of friendly pet snake from one of the miserable pet stores in the Elyria mall to add an element of fun decor to your room.

2. Hold public feedings once a week for your fellow dorm inhabitants of live mice for aforementioned snake.

3. Meet and befriend the way too many people you will suddenly find crammed into your open double.

It works. Trust me.

Posted by: Kendra '10 on September 4, 2013 6:27 PM

Social dancing! Contra has totally been the perfect way for me to meet friends. Almost all of my friends dance. It's the beeeeest!

Posted by: Ida on September 4, 2013 11:36 PM

AHHHH I totally forgot that I was watching/planned to include two videos from Alyssa Levenberg '16 at SUNY Oswego (she's great, I watched so many of her videos this summer!) on making friends in college:



Posted by: Ma'ayan on September 5, 2013 9:56 AM

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