Academic success is the primary goal of the college experience for young adults. Learning, interacting, forming opinions and sharing them - these are the steppingstones to intellectual development and future career achievement. No student goes to college with the idea that failing is an option - and their parents would certainly agree.
What about social success? Many students and their parents are so focused on the grades and awards they can get while in college that they may forget about another extremely important aspect of college life, which is socializing.
While not every student is cut out for the hyper-busyness most Greek systems encourage and require, every student needs to find personal connections that make them feel that they have chosen the right place to spend the four (or more) years of college. From the shy introvert to the gregarious extrovert, there's a place for everyone on college campuses.
Learning about who you are and what makes you happy and comfortable and what you find fulfilling is one of the goals every college freshman should head off with to college, in addition to those excellent grades and avoiding the freshman fifteen. Many high school graduates have been so closely identified with their school activities, whether debate team or football team, that there may be a bit of a shock to the system when they begin freshman year and have to define themselves separate from their identities at home. For some, the transition is easy - they move into the dorm, find their friends, join a club or rush a fraternity or sorority and get on with things - but for many students, it takes more time than that to determine how they will identify themselves in the most-likely larger and more diverse community that will make up their university.
"In 1987, 37.9% of incoming college students socialized at least 16 hours per week with friends while 18.1% spent five hours or less (see Figure 6). By 2014, 18% of students reported spending at least 16 hours per week socializing with friends (an all-time low) whereas 38.8% dedicated five hours per week or less to socializing (an all-time high)." - The American Freshman Study, 2014.
The lack of social life for anyone, but especially a freshman college student, can result in terrible loneliness and depression. Students rated their emotional health in 2014 at 50.4% (out of 100), the lowest ever reported and indicative of the amount of academic pressure and lack of personal connection students can feel far too frequently. The importance of personal relationships cannot be overstated. Without the skills and self-confidence needed to reach out to others and make connections - and to accept that, more often than not, connections will not work - students will not feel fully a part of their college campus, which will lead to unhappiness and possibly a lack of academic motivation.
How to Prepare to Jump Into the Social Pool at College
There are a few things students can and should do if they have not been very socially active in high school - or even in if they have. Meeting people in college is a far different experience than it was at home, where many faces can be familiar from Kindergarten on.
If a student has a part-time job, it's a good idea to connect socially with co-workers when appropriate to get used to the different types of people there are in their community and in the world in general.
While it's easy to make conversation with someone in Spanish class, it can be a little more challenging with a person with whom the only thing they have in common is the uniform they wear. Stepping out of their comfort zone now will make it easier to do when they leave home.
Put down the cell phone and talk. One of the biggest obstacles for freshmen in meeting new people can be the ease with which they can stay connected to friends from home via text, Snapchat, Instagram and more. While this can be a comfort during lonely moments, it can also become a substitute for socializing on campus and with dorm mates. Parents should explain this to their soon-to-be freshmen and emphasize conversation over texts.
Work on a basic "elevator pitch." While no one wants to sound rehearsed, it's not a bad idea to determine who you want to present yourself as to new acquaintances.
For example, in high school a student may identify himself first as a member of the marching band or baseball team. Perhaps beginning in college it's a good time to introduce oneself not by what team they've been on but by what interests they have and what they find interesting and entertaining. It doesn't need to be a laundry list, but a few facts that make a person unique can be a good start.
Know when to walk away. Sometimes - in fact, possibly often - new college freshmen will meet people with whom they simply don't click. It's ok to move on if that happens, and parents should emphasize this over and over before their children leave home. If a student doesn't drink, he or she should not feel pressured into participating simply because they are now in college. Roommates don't always work out as friends, either, and no one should feel responsible for the happiness of a stranger, nor should they feel that their roommate owes them anything - from friendship to shared snacks.
Find a safe place. If your family is connected to a church or synagogue, that is always a great place to go to try to find connections. Most campuses have organizations that cater to a wide variety of beliefs and an open door policy.
Know that everyone is a little uncomfortable. If your student is feeling particularly unhappy and talking about coming home or transferring, be sure to remind him that going to college is difficult for everyone to adjust to, even those who seem to be having the time of their lives. Leaving childhood behind to step into the world on your own is not easy for anyone, and everyone needs to be patient - with themselves and their colleges.
Taking the time to meet lots of new people, being friendly and open, and trying new things that they are comfortable with are all ways for college freshmen to connect to others who could potentially be lifelong friends.