Scott wandered into my dorm room shortly after move-in. He sat on my roommate’s bed and introduced himself. He ate some of the disgusting popcorn that I accidentally brought with me to college. Twenty-two years later, we’re still friends.
You may not have a dorm room or bucket of stale popcorn. And you definitely don’t have a Scott — that man is one of a kind. But I want you to have friends on campus.
The truth is forming new friendships requires effort and time, but it’s totally worth it! Use your time and effort wisely.
I’ve pulled together five small steps you can take today to help open doors of friendship on campus — lessons drawn from my decades of awkwardness and awesomeness.
1. Take stock.
Who do you already know on campus? It’s easier sometimes to turn an acquaintance into a friend than become besties with a total stranger.
In InterVarsity, we sometimes use a tool called a network map to help us decide where to plant new ministries or small groups. Can you use this tool to also list out friendship prospects? I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.
For many of us, college life is a constant foraging for sustenance followed by brief bouts of academic acrobatics. People feel loved when they’re fed. And the context of table fellowship has deep roots in the Christian tradition.
My top four snacks for friend-making are:
Popcorn: freshly popped, cheap, smells great
Cookies: fresh baked is great, but everyone loves Oreos (and they even can be gluten-free)
Coffee: “the best part of waking up …” (insert retro commercial reference)
Bacon: okay … this list might be revealing more about me than is wise :)
3. Be a regular.
Friendship can be like weight lifting: If you want gains, you need reps. Go to the same places at the same time, and you’re more likely to see the same people over and over again.
My friendship with Scott benefited tremendously from our trips together to the gym. We went so often that we made friends with Jack, the guy who ran the smoothie bar in the gym. When he had a family emergency, he gave us the keys to his truck to pick his daughter up from school.
Repeated connection can build trust, a great step toward friendship.
4. Circle back.
We live in an initiation-allergic age. And with good reason. Taking initiative risks failure or awkwardness. Plus, we’ve got other stuff to do. But if you want to form new friendships, you may need to play offense.
When you meet someone, invite them to do something and exchange contact info. Group hangouts can be helpful if you don’t want it to sound like a date.
The odds are high that your new friend is just as awkward as you — and will appreciate you reaching out to them.
5. Get involved.
You’re an interesting person who has interests that are interesting. Join a club on campus. Lots of people develop great friendships around shared interests. The same principle applies to your major or academic studies. Most departments offer ways to get involved and meet people. You could also consider joining — nobody saw this coming — a Christian fellowship (I’m partial to InterVarsity).
A Pastoral Note
Loneliness is real and really common. At times, despite our best efforts, friendship may remain elusive. I had a difficult season like this when I moved to England for graduate school.
During that time, I discovered the beauty of a God who will never leave us nor forsake us, a God who is closer than a friend. I spent time talking with and listening to the Lord. And I prayed, asking him for friends to push back my loneliness. He answered in a way I didn’t expect.
My phone rang. The voice on the line said: “Hey, Steven! It’s Scott. How’re those Brits treating you?”
Steve Tamayo is a strategist serving with InterVarsity’s Latino Fellowship (LaFe), Creative Labs, Graduate and Faculty Ministries, and Multiethnic Initiatives. You can can support his ministry using this link: donate.intervarsity.org/donate#9101.