Finding Your Tribe: Making Friends in College

by Alyssa Burlingame

My Expectations

When I started my freshman year of college, I was ecstatic. I loved my roommate, I lived in a great hall, and I enjoyed my classes. I had an idyllic picture in my head of what the next four years would be like: lots of late-night adventures, cute photos, and instantly making friends. However, my journey did not end up looking exactly like that picture.

While I had plenty of casual friends and general acquaintances, I hadn’t found those people to connect with on a deeper level—the ones you laugh the hardest with, can be totally yourself with, and who make college feel like home. All the friends I did have had their own groups, apart from me.

I didn’t find my true tribe of friends until my first semester of junior year. When it finally happened, it was the best thing I could have hoped for. I was sitting in one of my classes when another student walked in. I wasn’t sure how I felt about her at first, but we ended up working together on a few class projects, and we soon became friends. Not long after, we went to the homecoming football game and she introduced me to her other friends, and suddenly my circle had expanded.

If you’re starting college soon—or maybe mid-way through—and wondering if there’s a trick to making friends in college, here’s what I learned over the years about finding your tribe:

College Is Different from High School

I was always social, especially in high school, so I didn’t think it would be any different in college. But it was. When you get to college, a lot changes. You’re away from home, your schedule gets busier, your freedom and independence increase, and you’re not around the same people and friends you have been for the last four years. You’re navigating adulthood for the first time. With everything changing around you, it’s completely normal that your friendships will change, too.

Focus on What Feeds Your Soul

Not having a strong group of friends for a while was difficult, and it made adjusting to college more stressful than it needed to be for me. I ended up putting a lot of my energy into my school work and my relationship with Christ—things I hoped would advance my intelligence and self-worth. (Also, binge-watching my favorite shows on Netflix.) If you’re lacking a strong social circle at the moment, consider volunteering, joining a club, jumping into the cheering section at the next big game, or seeking out a professor to mentor you. Chances are, you’ll meet people with similar interests when you put yourself out there.

Your Worth Is Not Measured in Numbers

Something I had to learn while waiting for my tribe is that there was nothing wrong with me as a person. It’s so easy to believe that because you don’t have friends, it’s your failure. This couldn’t be less true. I spent a lot of time learning to be alone, which, for an extrovert, wasn’t the easiest lesson. Ultimately, I was able to grow stronger in my faith journey, leaning on the Lord in a difficult season and drawing closer to Him. I slowly built patience and trusted God’s timing, knowing He had wonderful plans for me.

Friends Come Along When You Least Expect It

My tribe came along at just the right moment, when I needed them most. I gained my best friends through a class and a football game. Concentrate on the relationships you do have—cultivate them and cherish them, even if they aren’t your tribe. And keep your eyes open for the friendships that might be right in front of you. One day, when you least expect it, your tribe will be there, and you will feel at home.

Today, I wouldn’t trade my tribe for the world. And if I had to do it all over, you can bet I’d do it exactly the same way.

Alyssa Burlingame ’19 is an editorial intern in the Office of University Relations.