“College is going to be the best four years of your life.” Everyone has heard the cliché, perhaps from parents loading up the van for move-in, or from a jealous younger sibling eagerly awaiting their turn to experience the blissful freedom of living alone.
The problem with the expression, however, is that it sets students up for disappointment: if you’re told that the next part of your life will be the best, then every challenge faced is a reminder that it’s only going to get worse after this. In reality, many people count other parts of their life, such as parenthood, or when they achieve career success, as their happiest moments. Regardless of whether college is destined to be a fantastic experience or not, adjusting to it often provides a challenge uniquely specific to this phase of life: the feeling of being lonely in a place where no one ever seems to be alone.
The prophecy of the “true college experience” foretells of endless adventure and friendship, and often the first few weeks of school do feel like this. But as finals season rolls around, and friends of convenience start to become less convenient, it is common to grow disappointed with the comparison of the depth and quality of your college friendships with the connections you have back home.
Here are three tips to help prevent loneliness.
- Don’t compare friendships
Though you might have heard it a million times before, comparison is never helpful when it comes to measuring your self-worth. But comparing the quality of your friendships in college with your relationships with your best friends back home makes even less sense. Asking your college friends to immediately fill a void that can only be filled with inside jokes and funny stories accumulated over many years of your life is unrealistic. But the good news is that due to all the shared experiences that happen when you live together, college friendships develop fast, and before you know it, you’ll have a whole new set of inside jokes.
- Don’t hide in your room
This September, the New York Times published a piece on loneliness in college touching on the ways mental health experts advise universities on reducing social isolation. Methods include placing laundry rooms and areas with great wireless connection in the center of dorm buildings, in the hope that this will prevent students from spending all their free time in their rooms. While hanging out with the washers and dryers might become weird after a little while, study lounges are definitely a great tool for combating loneliness, as you can adjust how much you talk and how much you study to whatever ratio suits you.
- Don’t try to do it all
While it is important to get out of your room if you’re attempting to make new friends, it is also important to ensure that the time you spend socializing is of high quality. Rather than attempting to be the person who attends every club and dorm activity, take some time to think about what sort of people you connect with. Develop a goal, such as having one five-minute, personal conversation each day. By creating this structure for yourself, you can ensure that the friendships you build are founded on more than just the fact that you and your friend have the same discussion section.
Tips aside, sometimes the only thing you need to help combat loneliness is a healthy dose of perspective. Just because you feel lonely right now, doesn’t mean college can’t still be some of the best years of your life. Given enough time, finals will be over, and your loneliness will go away. In the meantime, don’t stress. Many studies link success with spending time alone. Adolescents, in particular, can benefit from a little bit of solitude now and then. In fact, with the seemingly constant company of roommates, club obligations and a hefty load of homework, you’ll realize soon enough that sometimes a little bit of alone time is exactly what you need.
Maya McNealis is a second year neuroscience student. In addition to writing for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative, she is a news reporter for the Daily Bruin.