Getting Involved and Finding a Niche

Your first-year students are about a month in to school. They are adjusting to the new academic expectations and workload, and hopefully are finding a rhythm to college life. They are also trying to navigate social life and find their place on campus. This can be one of the tougher parts of the early adjustment to college.

Unless they have moved around a lot during their K-12 years, your students arrived at Wake Forest having had lots of years of friendships – with other kids in their neighborhood, at school, in clubs or organizations, etc. And it can be hard for them to get to college and have to remake their social networks. Building those relationships takes time and effort. One should not expect the same kind of friend group from senior year in high school (which was probably years in the making), within a month at college.

I talk to so many parents, family members (and sometimes the students) about their worry about finding a niche and a friend group. Often, the folks I am talking to express this fear:

Everyone has already found their friend group!  But I haven’t.

This makes people feel understandably anxious. Hopefully I can help debunk that myth just a bit.

First up, this is a great article from the Washington Post about how students experience loneliness and the benefits of getting involved.  I recommend it highly.

Second, if your student is feeling lonely, or like he/she has not found a tight-knit friend group yet, it is important to help put that into perspective. When students talk to me about feeling like they have not found their group, they tend also to put it in terms of “everyone else looks like they are happy, well-adjusted, and have friends – why am I struggling?”  Typically I respond by telling the student this: everyone wants the world to believe they are great and nothing is ever wrong, so when people step out of their room in the morning, they put their “game face” on. They project confidence (even if they don’t feel it) because they don’t want to admit their anxieties or insecurities, etc.  It’s the old saying “fake it ’til you make it.”

(As an aside, I wish it was easier for students to own their struggles and their discomfort and not be afraid to show it to others.  I suspect it would be both helpful and healthy for students to show their vulnerability – because it would allow others to say “You feel that way? ME TOO!” and it would help everyone understand that it is OK to struggle a bit, to feel insecurity, etc.)

So, if your Deac is feeling like he/she has not found a “tribe” or a “niche” on campus, let him/her know that is normal at this juncture, and that there are some things that can help.

Get involved – students who get involved in an organization or two tend to find friends within that shared experience. A group could be a service project (Campus Kitchen is a great organization, but there are many many others), it could be a faith-based group, it could be a political group, a special interest (poetry, the environment, etc.) – the list goes on. Students who are seeking a niche should think about what their interests or passions are – or what they have never tried but are curious about – and get involved.  There are flyers posted all over campus about activities or events – pick one and try it!

Seek out people – if your student has not met a ton of people on his/her hall, maybe it is time to start hanging out in the hall lounge to ‘study’ – and strike up some conversations with people on the hall.  If your student has not been leaving his/her door open when hanging out in the room, start doing that and saying hi to people as they walk by. When there is a hallmate with an open door, your student can knock and say hello and have a chat (‘hey, we are living on the same hall and I realize I hadn’t gotten to talk much to you yet – I’d love to do that‘). If there is a person eating by himself/herself (and not obviously studying), take a chance and ask if you can join him/her.

Attend events – even if your student goes solo to an event, he or she can find other people to talk to. There are lectures and events happening all the time (see the Events calendar).  In addition, the Faculty Fellows program gives students the chance to get together with their residence hall to go to events, or to stay in and do some fun activity (watching popular tv shows together, etc.)  Going to a Faculty Fellows event can help students meet people from different wings/floors of their residence hall, which could lead to friendships.

Seek a mentor – First-Year in Focus (FYIF) is a relationally-based program which matches a first year student with an upper-class mentor for a designated period of time (six months to one year). The purpose of the one-on-one relationship is to establish a friendship base which forms a platform for conversation, personal reflection, and role-modeling between the first-year and the upper class students. The focus of the interaction is to promote academic success, personal wellbeing, and finding meaningful connections on campus. The mentee/mentor relationship is built upon the principles of mutual trust (confidentiality), compatibility, and common interests. Students can access the FYIF referral form here.

Seek support – if your student is experiencing what you feel is beyond the normal loneliness or difficulty finding a place on campus, encourage him or her to seek out support. That could be talking to the RA about how to get more involved, speaking to someone in the University Counseling Center or the Chaplain’s office, or talking to a staff or faculty member. There are many sources of help – we just need students to ask for it!

Final thoughts: It can be uncomfortable (especially if you are an introvert) to put yourself out there and try new things, but if your student hasn’t found his/her group and has NOT tried some of the advice above, perhaps it is time to do something different.  As the old saying goes: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

 

 

Contact

For more information on how to contact the Office of Family Engagement, please visit our contact page.

If Your Student Has a Problem

One of the most important ways parents and families can help their students in college is by encouraging them to solve their own problems. Please bookmark or print out this Stop, Drop, and Roll flyer so you have it when your student contacts you with a problem.  Also, the flyer lists contact information for urgent and serious concerns where family intervention might be appropriate.

Orientation 2016 Handouts and Slide Shows

Select information and presentations from Orientation 2016 are available online.