Dear College Freshman,
I see you. Even though you’re sure no one does right now, I see you.
I know you’re feeling pretty invisible walking around your still-brand-new campus and your new dorm and sitting in your new classes, like no one even knows you’re there, but I see you. I know you’re there.
I know that you’re struggling to find your groove and your people and how you fit in and it feels like it’s taking forever or that it may never happen at all, and I know that sucks. And I’m sorry. Because I know that what you want more than just about anything right now is to feel connected to this new place and all these new people around you. And it’s frustrating that you still feel like an outsider when all you want is to feel like you belong.
But I’m here to tell you, as a former scared and lonely freshman over thirty years ago, and the mom of two daughters who have also had to find their way, that it’s only a matter of time before all the people around you will see you too. It’s only a matter of time until you won’t feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Soon enough, you’ll be a part of the world around you. And as much as you just can’t fathom that happening right now, you just need to be patient. Because it will happen.
I know how badly you wanted to step on campus that first day and feel like you belonged—like college was a pop-up book, everything in its perfect place the second you turned that first page. And I know how hard it is that it’s not. I really do. I know that all you want is for people to scoop you up and add you to their squad and make you feel at home. And I’m also willing to bet cash money that you feel like you’re the only one feeling this way. But I can promise you that you’re not.
The thing is, what you don’t know and can’t see is that the vast majority of kids around you are feeling exactly the way you do, they just don’t want to admit it because they’re afraid of being judged or looking weak or a combination of both. Instead, everyone’s trying their best to project an image of being well-adjusted and settled, regardless of how unhappy they are on the inside.
You’ve gotta trust me, though, that all those Snapchat and Insta stories you’re seeing all over your feeds are only tiny slivers of someone’s life. They’re not reality. Those ecstatic-looking photos filled with people and red Solo cups are exactly what people want you to see, not the reality of what most people’s life is really like in college. You don’t know who those people are or how they all know each other or if they’re all even friends. Remember, all these posts and stories have been carefully curated to create the illusion that college is amazing, when the truth is, most of these kids are struggling with the same feelings of loneliness and uncertainty and awkwardness that you are. The problem is, no one wants to say it out loud. But the truth is, it’s normal. It’s all perfectly normal.
I mean, sure, there are people who join groups and clubs and teams and have an instant community to draw on when they get to college, so they do feel a little more connected when they get there, but that’s a pretty small percentage of the total number of kids starting their freshman year. Most of you are just walking in cold and trying to make your way, and that’s not as easy as they make it look in all those virtual campus tours.
Look, the bottom line is that college isn’t one-size-fits-all. The experience you’re having is going to be completely different than every other kid around you. And you’re all going to find your people and your rhythm at very different times, in very different ways, and in very different places. But the sooner you start that conversation with the girl studying next to you in the common room or branch out and join one of the groups and clubs on campus or invite someone to get coffee and study together, the sooner you’ll make the connections that will make all the difference. You need to think of it like this… college is just a smaller version of the big world around you, where you learn to adjust by putting yourself out there and stepping outside your comfort zone and embracing the people and opportunities around you. This is your proving ground.
So please, for no one’s sake but your own, cut yourself some slack and give yourself a minute. Cause it’s ok. It’s ok to give yourself time to adjust and to settle in and to find your tribe, because they’re out there. Yeah, ok, you may have to eat some dinners alone in the dining hall or spend some nights in your room watching Netflix until you find your people, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Your people are out there and it’s just a matter of time before you find each other. You just need to keep an open mind and give everyone around you a chance.
The hard truth is that college can be lonely and overwhelming and isolating, and it can take time—sometimes a bunch of time—to adjust and to find your people and settle into a groove. But you’ve got to be willing to put yourself out there and connect with everyone around you, whether they’re reaching out to you or not. Because what we all tend to forget, especially when we’re kids, is that we’re all searching for that human connection… that person to break the ice… that friend to sit with or talk with or bond with. And very few people will reject you just because you reached out to make that connection. Some may not reach back the way you want and that’s ok, because others who you never expected will.
So, I’ll say the exact same thing to you that I said to my own daughters when they went off to school, Give it some time, be patient, and remember that putting yourself out there and taking risks can be the one thing that changes everything.