The first semester at college is the hardest. Scratch that: the first weekend is the hardest. There’s so much going on, from parties to orientation activities to figuring out how to live and feed yourself now that you’re on your own for the first time, that it can seem completely overwhelming. Even worse, it’s like a speeding train that if you don’t jump on, you feel like you’ve completely missed out. For all those who are spending their first semester having to deal with the additional burden of COVID safety regulations (or apparent lack thereof at some universities), my heart goes out to you.
The answer, for many people, is to rush into a fraternity or a sorority. It seems simple enough: lots of new people to befriend and make connections with, a strong identity for your peers to define you by when your personality seems nebulous and unspecified, and some well-needed structure to keep you from just sitting in your dorm room all day. That’s all well and good, and lots of individuals end up finding some of their best friends that they keep for the rest of their lives by rushing. But it takes a certain kind of person to rush. It takes a kind of dedication and commitment that some people just aren’t willing to commit to that early in their college lives. Some people don’t want to be hazed into oblivion (sure, some places have eased up on that kind of initiation, but it still very much exists, and certain chapters are way worse than others). Some people just don’t want to be Frat Boys.
So say this is you. You’re a bright, fresh-faced newbie to your college or university of choice and want to make the most of your experience right from the jump, but you’re hesitant, at least initially, to get involved in a fraternity or sorority. What do you do to find your place? Luckily for you, there are options outside of rushing.
Clubs and organizations
A classic that will be thrown at you in every direction from your first day on campus. It’s true that each and every school has hundreds of clubs, organizations, casual sports teams, and activities that cover every conceivable fandom, so go wild. It doesn’t matter how obscure it might be: you can play quidditch, put on cabarets, battle in Call of Duty, indulge your love of horticulture, discuss the intricacies of Heavy Metal, or learn how to scam your competition at poker. And that’s just scratching the surface because every interest, every cultural background, and every kind of activity is covered by some club. And, if by some miracle, you can’t find a club for your particular niche, create one! It’s easy, looks great on a resume, and makes you the proactive one when trying to create your own space.
Hang out in the common room
This is one you here a lot, and for good reason, because it works better than just about anything else. In all dorm buildings, the common room is the great central meeting place, since most of the time it’s in the middle of the floor and is the only place with a working fridge (which makes it absolutely vital real estate). Even better, there’s no requirement for the people who go there. You can walk right in, hang out, do homework, and people will generally gravitate towards each other. It truly is the melting pot for all the newbies trying to find friends, and if you can get over your own initial shyness, it’s incredibly rewarding to find people of all different backgrounds and interests. The variety you’ll find there won’t likely be equalled as your friend groups get more selective and trimmed down in the subsequent years, so try and be as social as you can. You never know who could be your new best friend, or your future roommate, until you check out the common area.
Go to the RA sponsored events
Yes they tend to be goofy, or sometimes they’re hardasses when it comes to loud noises and hidden bottles of Smirnoff, but those people who live at the end of the hall are trying their best to make your transition into college as smooth and enjoyable as possible. It’s literally they’re job. So if they’re getting a group together for movie night, or to go to the next basketball game, or to have an art night in the common area, don’t turn your nose up at them. Chances are that there are a lot of your fellow dormmates who, without any alternative plans, feel the same goofiness and hesitancy to take part as you do. That’s something everyone will have in common. You’re never too cool to make a Bob Ross-guided masterpiece, so take a chance and embrace the help that the RA’s are trying to provide you. Most of the time, it ends up being light, silly fun with the people you live with.
Explore your town
This one might be a bit more challenging, what with all the quarantining and safety regulations and what not going on right now, but everyone should have a keen idea of what is, and isn’t, in their college town. I used to think that Clemson was the worst college town in America. I mean, there’s just a football stadium and that’s it, right? It may be, geographically speaking, the farthest point in South Carolina from a beach. Then, on my very last day there, two of my friends took me around to show me what I was missing. When I came to College Park, I again thought that it was the worst college town in America. But every college town has its gems, some are just harder to find than others. When you find out which houses have the parties you’re looking for, make a note. It may be a frat house, it may be a house where an indie band is playing, or it may be a house where everyone’s in the basement playing Dungeons and Dragons. Either way, go looking for these places. If you’ve exhausted your resources and come to the conclusion that your college town sucks, know the closest city or municipal area and start checking that out. Whatever you do, never stop exploring.
Get a part-time job
When I was illegally squatting in my brother’s apartment during my first semester at UMD, my suitemate Matt seemed to have a whole contingent of friends separate from the people who usually came around the house. I had no idea where these people came from, as they weren’t in his classes or from his old high school. As it turned out, they were his work buddies. Now not everyone can afford to section off the appropriate amount of time and energy to manage both work and school, but there are plenty of on-campus opportunities that are part time, don’t require extensive training, and are filled with fellow college students. Maybe the writing center needs an extra hand, or maybe the campus bookstore is hiring. You can earn some extra money, get some much needed work experience, and make some friends in places you wouldn’t have expected. It worked for me: Matt got me his job at the performing arts center, and his work friends because my friends, with every year bringing more friends and more pocket change to spend on Uber Eats.