There’s a reason why tons of Netflix series’ out there revolve around being the misfit in school or college. From the “working class” kids on Netflix’s Elite not fitting in with the rich kids, to the general hatred and public trolling in One Of Us Is Lying, personal challenges in life as a student are rough. So rough that they make for ready-made entertainment series scripts. Life IS drama in college.
In fact, for some college students, their social problems in college far outweigh their academic challenges in college.
Fitting may not be essential to your ability to learn in the classroom, but it is essential to make college enjoyable. Feeling left out or not accepted is a major cause of depression in college students. That’s because not fitting in might make you feel isolated and ultimately affect your well-being. This is also why finding one's tribe is one of the top goals for college students.
Finding your place in a new college life can be a painful process for a lot of people, but it doesn't have to be. Here’s how it's done:
Easy Ways For Students To Fit In College Life
- Get prepared for the school-to-college transition
Here’s how to mentally prepare for college. It’s not going to be as easy to keep bullies off your back because bullying becomes much more subtle in college. Getting teased or pushed around a playground (that can be pinpointed by the school administration) is replaced by being ignored, or not invited to social gatherings (that the college administration cannot interfere in).
So what do you do? You build resilience. You learn to watch and adapt. You understand that this is your chance to prepare for the real world and the office politics that you hear grown-ups talking about.
You can also get ahead of the pack with self-awareness. Try genetic testing, for example, that can teach you exactly what your personality traits, strengths, and weaknesses are. It can make you incredibly centred, confident, and mature.
- Participate in a ton of things
One of the biggest challenges in college is finding a group of (real) friends. If you’re going to be strategic about fitting in, you need to get a bird’s eye view of everyone in the mix, and then zero in on who you’re likely to vibe with. Your orientation program might be optional, but show up nonetheless! It's a great chance to meet people through ice-breakers and events, and to get an idea of whom the other students are, and what they’re like.
You need to balance your fitting-in goals with your long-term goals as a college student. One way to ace both these is to participate in college activities. Reflect on your interests, join clubs, and attend events. It is more than just fun, it is a stepping stone to your future.
- Live on-campus or near campus
Living in a student dorm means more friends, late-night study buddies, and classes, just a snooze button away. Imagine setting your alarm later because your class is just a building away, or finding a study buddy at 3 am. Living on or near campus also makes it easier to socialise after classes.
If you live in the same city, there’s no way your parents are going to let you go and live on campus, or near your campus. However, you can spend time in the college canteen, or around college after classes to give yourself and your peers time to warm up to each other. A familiar face is easier to talk to.
- Find your tribe (even if it takes multiple attempts)
One great strategy to fit in is to not choose your crew immediately. Be a social butterfly and get to know lots of people initially. Then, gradually increase the time you spend with people who align with your values and interests (and who treat you nicely and welcome you into their fold).
Also, don’t feel like a bad person if you feel like you have evolved past your first clique of friends, and want to make new friends. You’re not disloyal, or “trying to be too cool” any of the things you might be afraid of being labelled as, just because you identify with different people as time goes by.
Think about this. Isn’t a first-year college student vastly different from a third-year student? You evolve and grow dramatically in these years. You might feel closer to different people as time goes by, and you deserve to expand your horizons.
Tip: Don’t abandon your old friends. This isn’t Russia vs Ukraine; you can have friends in multiple cliques. You never know whom you might need when.
- Seek help when needed
Facing loneliness? Join clubs or attend social events even when you don’t feel like it. Make “get up, dress up, and show up” your mantra on downer days.
Overwhelmed by anxiety or peer pressure? Check-in with a counsellor or outside-of-college friend. College depression is a real thing, and is it surprising? This is your first glimpse of the real world, one without the protectiveness that you were used to in a school environment. You should also seek out professional help when you are struggling with relationship issues or performance pressure. Or if there are issues on your college campus that aren’t exactly being addressed, and you don’t want to be the whistle-bower (a.k.a. snitch), but you’re reeling from the impact.
Pro tip: Want to talk to someone, but scared to “reveal a secret?” Medical professionals – including mental health practitioners – are bound by doctor-patient confidentiality, so unless you seem likely to hurt yourself or someone else, your secret is safe with them. Chances are they’ll know how to help you out because they’ve witnessed the same problem in another patient before you.
Learn from mistakes and embrace growth
Everyone makes the occasional social stumble. In college, this often becomes a big deal. One of the biggest problems college students face is ridicule after something embarrassing goes down. It could be a romantic rejection, a party that didn’t go as planned, or an outfit gone wrong… the list is never-ending.
But calm down. People will eventually forget. Someone else will make a bigger, more gossip-worthy stumble. In the meanwhile, focus on the friends who will be kinder to you than the average classmate.
Completely ostracized? That’s horrible, but is not the end of the world, either. It's also a pretty common problem that college students have faced throughout history. Here’s what the smart ones do: They make new friends. Sometimes, they befriend the other ostracized folks and make their own little tribe that sticks its tongue out at the rest of their peers’ norms for normalcy. Try it!
Make the Best Out of College
And there you have it, your guide to fitting into college and dealing with personal challenges in life as a student. Remember, to be yourself – there’s always going to be some people who welcome you as you are and enjoy your company.