Feeling Lonely in College?  You’re Not Alone.

Various surveys on college campuses in 2023 showed that somewhere between 40-60% of students felt lonely. Especially if you attended a smaller high school and knew (or at least recognized) most other students, college can feel anonymous and lonely.

We know that social connection is one of the most critical pillars of mental health and well-being. You don’t need a big group of friends to feel supported and connected. For most of us, quality over quantity is far more important. When deciding how to make social connections, consider trying activities that give you exposure to the same people several times. It can take time to recognize your people and feel safe to engage.

Here are 10 ways to get connected in college:

1. Join clubs

CU has over 450 clubs.  They’ve got clubs based on hobbies, academic interests, and professional pathways.  Also look for club flyers on campus bulletin boards.  When you see student representatives at tables in the UMC promoting their clubs, stop and learn more.   Listen to professor announcements about clubs and opportunities in your major or minor. 

2. Join social and professional fraternities or sororities

 CU has 11 sororities and 11 fraternities. Most have their big recruitment early in the Fall, but some have opportunities to join in the spring, or continuous open bidding. Additionally, there are two co-ed business fraternities and one co-ed engineering fraternity that have a nice mix of socializing and professional development.

3. Try Intramurals

https://www.colorado.edu/recreation/intramural-sports

This can be a fun way to meet new people while doing an activity that you enjoy.  This is often easier for some people than just socializing.   Intramurals are usually a one hour a week time commitment for abut 6 weeks.  CU intramurals offers traditional sports like soccer and basketball, as well as light-hearted games like broomball and innertube water polo.

4. Attend dorm events

This is a low risk, often one-time commitment. Look for flyers posted in your dorm hallways. Resident Assistants and Hall Directors often put on social activities like movies, board games, and trivia contests throughout the year. Pizza is often served, so give it a try!

5. Join a volunteer project

https://calendar.colorado.edu/group/volunteer_resource_center

I really like this strategy for several reasons.  One, volunteering makes us feel better about ourselves.  Two, it’s a great way to connect with like-minded people.  Three, these are multi-day or recurring events, so you have a better chance at developing meaningful relationships.  Consider doing a weekend project or spring break volunteering.

6. Check out special events on the campus calendar

https://calendar.colorado.edu/

These are often just one-time events, but you never know where you’ll make a friend.

These are just a few examples of what’s scheduled in February:  novice night for indoor rock climbing and online gaming tournaments.  

7. Attend a Rec Center exercise class regularly

CU offers a variety of classes from 7:00am to 7:00 pm.  Sign up for a weekly class and see if you hit it off with another student.  Here are some options this semester:  spin, yoga, meditation, bootcamp, and strength/resistance training.

8. Find a part-time job

https://www.colorado.edu/studentemployment/find-job

I’ve observed students having a lot of fun working with their peers on-campus, especially at the Rec Center.  The link above is a helpful resource for finding both on and off campus jobs.  Research shows that students who work up to 12 hours a week do better academically. 

9. Connect spiritually with others 

https://www.colorado.edu/students/identity-spaces-and-connections/identity-spaces-religious

Regardless of your religious and spiritual orientation, CU seems to have a group for you.  Many students find these religiously affiliated groups to be fun and supportive.

10. Stay in touch with high school friends

While you are trying to build a social network in college, continue making time to stay connected with your old friends. If possible, use FaceTime because you’ve got that important visual connection. Remember that phone calls are better than texting. 

If the above strategies feel too overwhelming for you to try right now, here is a final suggestion.  If you are depressed, lonely, socially anxious, etc.– you can just hang out silently around people.  We are herd animals and need to be around others, even if we are not actively engaging.  We’ve got to push ourselves to get out of our room/apartment and spend time around people, even strangers.  Neuroscience research shows that this actually helps us feel lonely.  Sit in the busy UMC and look around and not just at your phone.  Go to a park and sit on a bench with a book.  Go to the grocery store or Target and just browse.  Whatever you do, don’t self-isolate!  

To make friends you simply have to take risks.  You’ve got to put yourself out there.  I know it’s uncomfortable and probably a little scary.  Think of it as a game.  Challenge yourself to try 1 or 2 new things each week to make social connections. Keep an open mind.  Don’t expect to make a best friend in your first outreach, but hopefully you’ll meet someone who is at least friendly and interesting to talk to.  You’ve got to start somewhere!