College is commonly pitched as the perfect place to reinvent yourself, make friends, or fit in once and for all. While that’s true in some cases, it can be tough for introverted people to change their ways—especially on a huge campus with tens of thousands of students. If you make an effort, though, it’s totally possible to meet people you actually enjoy spending time with. Some formerly shy students even wind up becoming extremely popular.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping to yourself, per se, but shyness can affect your success in college and life in general.
People who feel more comfortable making their voices heard and interacting with others in social settings as well as in the classroom or the workplace tend to make more connections, which can lead to bigger and better opportunities.
A 2012 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that people who were considered popular in high school earn higher wages than their less popular peers, but being on the cheerleading squad or football team doesn’t necessarily translate into fatter paychecks. The study suggests that teens that have good social skills learn how to gain trust and support from others at a younger age, skills they use later down the line in their careers.
So if you’d like to come out of your cocoon and overcome your shyness, try these tips at school:
1. Be yourself. It doesn’t matter if you want to become popular and gain a hundred new Facebook friends during your first week of college—lying about your interests or pretending to be someone you’re not will backfire. College is a great time to explore new interests, but you shouldn’t have to give up all of your old ones to make friends. Don’t agree to do something against your beliefs just because you hope it’ll help you meet people.
2. Remind yourself that no one knows what you were like in high school. Unless everyone in your entire graduating class is now attending the same college, people in your dorm or classes don’t know that you were the “shy one” during high school. You might feel nervous and anxious on the inside when you meet new people, but there’s a good chance they do, too.
3. Take advantage of the fact that you’re in the same boat. People become friends with co-workers, classmates, roommates, and even cellmates because they’re in the same place at the same time. The other students on your floor or in your classes are also getting used to college life, just like you are. If your roommate mentions that she misses her family or someone sitting next to you in class says that he still isn’t used to auditoriums and TAs, participate in the conversation!
4. Go to “optional” activities. Make an effort to attend residence hall movie nights or meetings that aren’t required. Show up for optional lectures and exhibits. They’ll be less crowded than anything that’s mandatory, which can make it easier to meet people and have conversations with them.
5. Make small talk before class. Show up for class ten or fifteen minutes early and sit near someone else who is already there. Ask a question about the reading assignment, your professor, or even an upcoming exam. It’s usually a lot easier to introduce yourself after a few minutes of chitchat.
6. Arrange a study date. Reading and assignments tend to pile up quickly in college compared to high school. If a classmate mentions that they’re having trouble with a particular topic or needs to work on something before the next class, ask if they’d like to meet in the library to study with you. (If you’re not feeling quite that bold but do need help with your work, sign up for a study group that’s already formed or go to the campus tutoring center.)
7. Sit in a crowded place. Eating alone can make just about anyone feel awkward. Find a crowded spot in a cafeteria or coffee shop and sit near a large group. Ease your way into the conversation.
8. Sign up for a club or two. There’s no need to rush a sorority or fraternity to join a group during college. (But you’re not too shy and want to do it, by all means, rush! It’s a great way to make friends!) Most colleges are home to hundreds of clubs and groups. Tables are often set up on campus and posters or signs are commonly hung up on bulletin boards so clubs can recruit new members. If something piques your interest, sign up and show up for the meetings!
9. Let people talk about themselves. Have you ever noticed that most people love to talk about themselves? If you’re able to chat with someone for a minute or two before class, waiting for the elevator in the dorm building, or while standing in line in the cafeteria, ask them where they’re from or what their major is. After you learn about them, you’ll be more comfortable telling them about yourself.
If you’re trying to make friends and overcome shyness, it’s likely that some or all of the things in this list will make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. Just take your time and remember to be patient. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day—and friendships and relationships take time to develop.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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