The “dos and don’ts” of making friends in college

Lara Monahan puts together some tips on how to build friendships as a college student

College is often described by graduates as the best years of their lives. A heavenly place in which you will make friends for life with whom you will later share the nostalgia of being hungover outside the Perch. Of course, college is a formative and often wonderful experience, but the high expectations of the social aspect of it can put immense pressure on freshers to socially perform. To guide anyone grappling with this daunting experience, I have reflected on my four years in Trinity to encapsulate the dos and don’ts of making friends in college, and how to survive socially those tricky first few weeks.

Do attend more events than just the ones centred around drinking. 

I love a night in Workman’s just as much as the next Trinity student, but as it turns out, it is difficult to get to know people properly when you are vocally competing with the clamour of  a crowded club. Going to pre-drinks is always a great idea, since even if you don’t follow through with going to a club afterwards, you can still enjoy a party buzz and chat to people properly. Attending some of the society events that take place before nightfall can mean making far more meaningful friendships than the ones fostered through vomiting in the Flannery’s Bar toilets. I’m certain that I am not the only student to have used drinking as a social crutch in the past, but let me assure you that it often only creates the illusion of friendship, and is not necessarily the real deal. Going on a night out with strangers can be exciting, but in my experience having a more relaxed, drink-free meet-up can lead to even better nights out, and better friendships, down the line.

Don’t believe what you see on social media. 

This is a fairly good rule in general, but is particularly pertinent when approaching what can start to feel like the friendship olympics of college. I remember seeing countless posts from people living in Trinity Halls in my first year when I was living elsewhere in the city, and feeling the dreaded Fomo. It is key to rationally approach that feeling by remembering that social media is only a highlight reel. Not to sound like your mum, but the time you spend looking at social media can ironically be quite unsocial. 

Do socially venture outside of your course-mates and flat-mates. 

I know. This one is hard. People you live with and people in your course are friends with whom you don’t have to organise coffee dates. There is a good chance you will naturally be closer to them as you battle the common enemies of paying rent and essay deadlines. However, housemate horror stories are more widespread than Doc Martens in Trinity, and heated political debates in tutorials can sometimes mean coursemates are no better. Trinity is teeming with kind and interesting people, and you might find a really great friend somewhere you never expected – even if they do prefer the Lecky to the Ussher. 

Don’t worry about finding a ‘group’. 

Possibly one of the biggest lies in pop culture representations of college is that you will have a big group of friends with whom you do everything. Anyone who felt the impact of The Barden Bellas as keenly as I did will know what I am referring to! Clinging to any friendship group you can, regardless of how welcome, happy and comfortable you feel with the people in it, might initially seem like a good idea, as it seems to offer some kind of friendship group security. However, hanging out with people around whom you can’t be yourself, purely for the sake of not feeling lonely, can actually be even more isolating than just being completely alone. My policy for friendships is quality over quantity.

Do invite people to attend events and to sightsee with you. 

It can feel nerve-racking approaching a near stranger to ask them if they would like to join you in the ritual of freezing your toes off by swimming at the Forty Foot. But remember, everyone is in the same boat. Most incoming students start off not knowing anyone in college, and many are new to Dublin. You can combine discovering the city with getting to know your peers, plus you’ll need someone to take a picture of you exploring to send into the family group chat. You will have something to chat about if the conversation runs a little dry! 

Don’t be embarrassed to ask people for their contact details. 

This isn’t a LinkedIn networking event; you don’t have to be formal about it. But if you meet someone you get on with, make sure to get their contact details. It isn’t embarrassing to ask for someone’s details – in fact, it is quite flattering!  I can recall too many times in first year when I was anxious about seeming too keen to get to know people, but isn’t that one of the best parts of college? Whether it be their Instagram, phone number, or an address to send a carrier pigeon to them, grab their contact before they disappear into the Trinity woodwork. 

All this said, people make friends in college in various ways. There’s no one right way to do it, and it is nearly always far more gradual than meeting all your best friends in Freshers’ Week. If you are uncompromisingly your brilliant self, the right people will gravitate towards you and you to them. Cut yourself a break and don’t panic too much if for a while things feel a little lonely. Learning how to approach both the ups and the downs is a huge element of the paradox that is being a student: it is a devastatingly wonderful time. Take comfort in the fact that one day these difficult moments will bear the rosy tint of memory. Those who once were strangers will be friendly faces, and you too will have joined the legions of sentimental graduates.