When I was in elementary school, I remember that we always made name tags to display on our desks for the first few weeks of school. This was an “art project” that helped the teacher learn everyone’s names. Unfortunately, this practice seems to taper off in elementary school. We don’t have to wear name tags in college (at least not at any of the ones I’ve attended!) and it might be a little bit difficult to meet new people, especially if you’re an adult student that isn’t on campus full-time.
You may think there’s nothing wrong with keeping to yourself, but in the long run it’s a benefit to get out there and network with others, even if “the others” are students who are not in your age bracket. If they are taking classes full time, they’ll probably graduate before you do, and who knows – they may wind up working with you after earning their degree!
It’s unlikely that you’ll become best friends with everyone that you talk to, but it’s a good idea to get to know a few people. Some college classes require group projects or group discussions, and if you don’t feel comfortable enough to talk with others your grades could wind up suffering. You might think that you don’t have anything common with younger students, but you do have a common ground— you’re all trying to get through your classes as best as you can.
I’ve figured out a few simple ways to meet people without feeling like a fifth wheel.
An easy way to meet a few people is by arriving to class early. If you’re driving to school straight after work, you might wind up with a little bit of time to spare before class starts. You can talk with other students that are also in the room early (believe me, there will be others) and get to know them a little bit. It will seem easier to talk to them during class discussions or even outside of class if you’ve already chatted with them – they won’t feel like total strangers to you.
Another thing I’ve found is that if I sit in the front of the classroom, I wind up meeting more people. Students who are late for class usually prefer to sneak quietly into the back, and shy people tend to sit alone in the back of the room as well. There’s nothing wrong with being quiet, but if you’re trying to reach out and meet other students, you probably won’t strike up many conversations with other shy people that don’t want to talk.
If you’re very early for class (an hour or more) keep in mind that you might be unable to enter your classroom early. There may be another class which meets before yours and hasn’t yet ended, and some schools even keep the doors locked on classrooms and lecture halls to protect equipment or supplies when a class is not in session. In that case, you may want to find a cafeteria or student lounge where you can eat or study.
Even if you’re attending a very small community college without a real cafeteria, there’s probably at least a spot with vending machines. Everyone has to eat, so stopping for a snack might be a good way to strike up a conversation with others. There’s bound to be a place where you can go and mingle with other students who are also “wasting time” before class. I went to a relatively small private university, but we still had a commuter lounge where I wound up making a lot of acquaintances that I never even had classes with. We all had the common ground of being students who did not live on campus, and that was enough. Students of all ages would hang out in the lounge to eat and study before and after class.
I think that a lot of people with families are so accustomed to talking about their spouses or their children that they forget how to talk about their own interests. This is probably something you want to remember on a college campus, where most of the younger students probably don’t care that your three-year-old is potty training or that your wife’s mother has been driving you crazy lately. You don’t need to hide or ignore the fact that you have a life outside of school, but try to talk about yourself! I met a few students in my summer classes when I returned to college as an adult, and they knew I had a child because they asked me. I didn’t walk into the room and announce, “Hi guys, I have kids at home!” but it still worked its way into the conversation.
If you do wind up being assigned a group project, be sure to gather the contact information for everyone in your group. These days, most people have advanced cell phones that can store a lot more information than someone’s phone number, so why not get everyone’s email address also? If you don’t feel comfortable storing things in your phone, then write things down in your class notebook. Just make sure that you have everyone’s information, because you may not be on campus as often as they are and you’ll probably have a hard time trying to track down “that tall guy with brown hair and glasses in your economics class” if you don’t have his phone number and email address.
One final thing that I recommend has to do with health issues or personal issues that you may want to disclose to your professor. I am a person that lives with epilepsy. It is controlled with medication, but I opt to privately inform my professors of the situation information just in case something happens during a class. If you have a similar situation, it might be a wise idea to inform the school and professors of your condition in case of emergency.
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One of the best books I ever read during college was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People which has been a best-seller since it was released in 1936. DaleCarnegie.com
Take a chance! All life is a chance. The man who goes furthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. – Dale Carnegie
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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