Chapter 32: Socializing in College

Lumen Learning; Linda Bruce Hill; and Norma Cárdenas

As much as it is an academic experience, college is also a social experience where you can explore your identity and challenge your understanding of yourself in relation to others. It is an opportunity to engage in discussions around topics, to connect with others, and to grow and learn to be members of society. Having a sense of community is important, for both online and in person classrooms, for the student experience and learning outcomes. If you value interdependence, the expectation of independent thinking of the college environment may be jarring and will need to be overcome.


When exploring relationships within groups of people, interdependence may well be one of the most meaningful words in the English language. It’s meaningful because it speaks to the importance of connecting with others and maintaining reciprocal and empowering human relationships. By accepting help, you are responsible for helping others.

Interdependence is defined as the mutual reliance, or mutual dependence, between two or more people or groups. It differs from individualism or independence, which fosters competitiveness.

An interdependent relationship is different from dependent and codependent relationships, though. In dependent relationships, some members are dependent while some are not (dependent people believe that they may not be able to achieve goals on their own). In codependent relationships, there is a sense that one must help others achieve their goals before pursuing one’s own. Contrast these relationships with interdependent relationships, in which the dependency, support, and gain is shared for the enrichment of all.

Interdependence in College

Interdependence in college is valuable because it contributes to your success as a student. When you feel comfortable with interdependence, for example, you may be more likely to ask a friend to help you with a class project or a difficult task. You may also be more likely to offer that same help to someone else. You may be more inclined to visit a faculty member during office hours. You may be more likely to attend the tutoring center for help with a difficult subject. Perhaps you would visit the career counseling center.  The vital importance of mentors and community is central to success.

Overall, when you have a sense of interdependence, you cultivate support networks for yourself, and you help others, too. Interdependence is a reciprocal relationship. Above all, learning happens through interaction and dialogue. For many cultural groups, survival and wellbeing relies on interdependence. In the spirit of ubuntu (Swahili: I am because you are) or lak ech (Mayan: you are my other me), a support network is empowering to everyone.

The following table illustrates how interdependence can play a role in college life.

Interdependence Struggle Mode

Interdependence Success Mode

Students in struggle mode maintain a stance of dependence, co-dependence, or perhaps dogged independence, but not interdependence Students in success mode develop relationships that support themselves and support other people, too
Students in struggle mode may avoid cooperating with others in situations where the common good could be achieved Students in success mode develop networks of friends, family members, professionals, and others as a support team
Students in struggle mode may be reluctant to listen compassionately and attempt to understand the perspective of another person Students in success mode actively and compassionately listen to others as an action of support; they demonstrate care and concern

Benefits of Social Interaction in College

If you were to ask fellow students what they think are the greatest benefits of social interaction in college, you would probably get a wide and colorful range of responses. How would you answer? Gaining good friends to “talk shop” with? Easing loneliness during difficult times? Having a group to join for Friday night fun? Indeed there are many, many benefits personal to each of us. But you may find, too, that there are certain benefits that are recognizable to all. These are highlighted below.

Form Deep and Lasting Relationships

When you socialize regularly in college, you tend to develop deep and lasting relationships. Even if some of the connections are shorter term, they can support you in different ways. For example, maybe a college friend in your same major is interested in starting a business with you. Or maybe a roommate helps you find a job. With a foundation of caring and concern, you are bound to find that your interdependent relationships fulfill you and others. It’s unlikely that students without interdependent relationships will experience these kinds of benefits.

Develop Good Study Habits

Study habits vary from student to student, but you can usually tell when studying and social life are at odds. Creative, organized students can combine studying and socializing for maximum advantage. For example, you might join a peer study group for a subject that you find difficult or even for a subject that you excel in. There is mutual support not only for studying but for building social connections.

Minimize Stress

When you feel stressed, what are your “go-to” behaviors? It can be hard to reach out to others during times of stress, but socializing can be a great stress reliever. When you connect with others, you may find that life is a little easier and burdens can be shared and lightened. Helping is mutual. The key is to balance social activities with responsibilities.

Share Interests

In college, there are opportunities not only to explore a wide spectrum of interests, but also to share them. In the process of exploring and developing your personal interests, you may join a club or perhaps work in a campus location that fits your interests. By connecting with others in a context of shared interests, everyone stands to gain because you expand knowledge and experience through social interaction.

Develop Social Skills

As you engage in social activities in college, you have the opportunity to observe how other people act in these situations. You may see behaviors you want to emulate or behaviors you wish to avoid. Throughout these observations and experiences, you can learn new ways to handle yourself in social situations. These skills will benefit you as you pursue a career and engage with people who interest and inspire you.

Communication Strategies for Effective Interactions

Socializing is generally considered a leisurely, enjoyable activity. But depending on your personality and attitude, it can also feel like work or provoke anxiety.

Whatever your natural inclinations are, you can learn how to adjust and communicate more effectively with others and foster supportive interactions. The “doors” of change to more effective socialization interactions are threefold:

  1. Examine your reservations
  2. Engage with others
  3. Expand your social circle and/or build a few meaningful friendships.

Examine Your Reservations

Feeling uncomfortable and choosing to be silent in class is normal. There is a lack of trust and vulnerability in sharing your perspective and being your authentic self. The pattern is that students in the dominant group will speak first and most often. (Feelings of inadequacy and not belonging is called imposter syndrome. Stereotype threat is feeling fear that you are the stereotype of the undereducated lower-class and you start seeing yourself at the mercy of that expectation. Microaggressions are everyday verbal, behavioral. and environmental comments or insults that are hostile, derogatory, or negative toward a marginalized person or group.) The cultural disconnect on campus environment and culture may be a factor in feeling alienated, which doesn’t nurture your success. Low-income and first-generation students feel like they don’t belong or fit in among white and middle class students and instructors, particularly in historically white institutions (HWIs). The tendency is to blame themselves for their struggles so asking for help feels like failure. Below are some strategies to help you build your confidence, practice engagement, and build a supportive community.

  • Change ideas and thoughts: In our busy, fast-paced lives, it’s not always easy to be aware of our thoughts, especially habitual thoughts that sometimes lurk behind the others. But if we make a point to listen to our thoughts, we may discover some that we’d like to change. Once you begin to recognize thoughts you’d like to change, you can train yourself in new directions. For example, you can start by closing your eyes and visualizing the negative thought. Let it slowly dissolve until it disappears completely.
  • Turn a negative thought into a constructive thought: If you find yourself thinking that you’re not suited to joining a group that interests you, turn this thought into a positive one by saying, “I am an interesting person and I have a lot to offer and share.” This affirmation is true! You might want to come up with three or more replacement thoughts.
  • Acknowledge that everyone is unique: Everyone has their own unique mind, body, personality, interests, beliefs, and values.

Engage with Others

  • Smile: One of the easiest ways to compel yourself into socializing is to smile. Smiling can instantly make you feel more positive. It also draws other people to you. The effects of gender and ethnic stereotypes can play into people’s judgment.
  • Use welcoming body language: If you are at a social gathering, be aware of your body language. Does it signal that you are approachable? Make eye contact with people, give them a small wave or a nod, and look in front of you instead of at your feet or at the floor. When you look happy and ready to talk, people are more likely to come up to you.
  • Put your phone away: If you look busy, people won’t want to interrupt you. Your body language should say that you are ready to interact.
  • Be genuine: Whether you are talking to an old friend or somebody you have just met, show genuine interest in the conversation. Being fully engaged shows that you are compassionate and makes for more stimulating and fulfilling interactions with others.
  • Keep conversations balanced: Ask people questions about themselves. Show that you care by asking others to share.
  • Be open-minded: The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is relevant here. Someone you’re ambivalent about could end up being your best friend. Give yourself a chance to get to know others. What interests might you share?
  • Engage in intergroup dialogue: Promote conversations on racial understanding that lead to greater inclusivity and equity. Consider policies for handling racial discrimination and hostile language toward groups on campus.
  • Participate in co-curricular activities: Interact with people outside your limited social circle to learn about the racial and cultural wealth in the campus community.

Expand Your Social Circle

  • Offer invitations: As you reach out to others, others will be more likely to reciprocate and reach out to you. Call old friends that you haven’t seen in a while and set up a time to get together. Invite a friend to the movies, a baseball game, a concert, or other activity. Consider having a party and telling your friends to bring guests.
  • Accept more invitations: Granted, there are only so many hours in the day for socializing. But if you’re in the habit of turning down invitations, try to make a point to accept some—even if the invitation is to attend something out of your comfort zone. You might even want to make a habit of arbitrarily saying yes three times for every one time you say no.
  • Join a club or group with dissimilar people: Making new friends and expanding one’s social network can be accomplished by joining a club or group. You may even want to consider joining a group focused on something different from what you’re used to.
  • Meet mutual friends: Meeting friends of friends is one of the easiest ways to meet new people. Try to view every person you meet in your life as a doorway into a new social circle.
  • Look for unique opportunities to be social: This can be as simple as starting a conversation with a checkout clerk—”Hey, how’s your day going?”—instead of remaining quiet.

All in all, make your social life one of your top priorities. Everyone needs some alone time, too, but it’s important to stay connected. Keeping those connections alive contributes to healthy interdependence and personal success.

Activity: Reflections on Self-Confidence


  • Identify personal traits that give you self-confidence and use them as a springboard to social interaction.


  • Make a list of your positive qualities. Acknowledge your accomplishments, talents, and good nature. Ask yourself the following questions to get you started:
    • What have I done in the past year that I am proud of?
    • What is my proudest accomplishment of all time?
    • What unique talents do I have?
    • What do people tend to compliment me for?
    • What positive impact have I had on other people’s lives?
  • Draft your responses as a journal entry, or a diary entry, or even a poem or a brief essay.
  • Submit your writing to a friend, a family member, or a social network. Reach out. Be social.

Social Conflict Situations and Resolution Strategies

Now that you know more about communication strategies for interacting in college, you may find it helpful to identify common situations that can evoke anxiety or social problems and conflict.


The definition of bullying according to the NCAB (National Center Against Bullying) is when an individual or a group of people with more power, repeatedly and intentionally cause hurt or harm to another person or group of people who feel helpless to respond. Often receiving more attention at the K-12 level, bullying also occurs in college.  For more information, please see these two websites:

Campus Parties and Dating

Many college students report that they have social limits not shared by some of their friends. For example, you may join a group of friends to attend a party off-campus where drinking is taking place, along with other activities you are not comfortable with. If this kind of situation clashes with your personal, cultural, or religious values, you may feel best leaving the event and seeking out other social settings in the future. Angle your social interests toward people and situations that are compatible with your values and preferences. Be aware of your environment and your company and think about your health and safety.

Academic Problems

When you’re in college, it’s not unusual to hit a rough patch and find yourself struggling academically, and such challenges can have an impact on your social life. If you find yourself in this situation, you may benefit from slowing down and getting help. This is especially true if you are experiencing additional stressors, such as employment difficulties, responsibilities for a family member, or financial problems.

Your college or university has support systems in place to help you. Take advantage of resources such as the tutoring center, counseling center, and academic advisers to help you restore your social life to a balanced state.


Homesickness is common among first-year students in college, but it can persist in later college years, too. Cultural adjustments can feel socially isolating. During this time, one may not feel up to being sociable or outgoing, especially if depression is involved. One of the best antidotes to homesickness is to try to make new social connections. Try to appreciate your new environment and know that you are not alone in feeling out of place and alone. Many potential new friends may be sharing the same feeling and hoping to connect with someone just like you. Give yourself time to acclimate, but reach out as soon as possible and take an active role in building your new college life.


Depression is beyond homesickness and loneliness. Anxiety and pressure of college life are why mental health issues surface. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, reach out for professional assistance before there might be a significant mental health crisis. Negative emotions, irregular sleeping or eating habits, disinterest in extracurricular activities, unexplainable guilt and persistent pain are warning signs.

Affinity Groups

Student affinity groups share a common identity (race, gender, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, ability status, etc.) or interest that hold space for support. The group receives support and recognition from the university to fulfill its purpose. There are many benefits to belonging to peer affinity groups such as providing affirmation, encouragement, and support (like family), drawing on cultural values to mitigate isolation, and exploring career paths.

LGBTQAI+ Students

People are still coming to terms with their identities and are at different levels of outness. QTBIPOC have unique experiences that make college integration more difficult and need to feel seen and safe. The LGBTQ Center can provide resources on how to navigate questioning your gender identity or sexual orientation, or community spaces for questioning folks to interact with each other and feel less alone. Students can find calm and relaxed spaces in which they can interact with other queer students of color and feel like their identities are protected. Similarly, students equate going to the LGBTQ Center feel “outed,” and some people don’t feel comfortable going to the LGBTQ Center if they’re not out. Organizing online programming and social media events, using gender-neutral language, sharing our own preferred pronouns, and asking for the preferred pronouns of others and using them consistently are ways to create a safe space.

Undocumented and DACAmented Students

Undocumented and DACAmented students may find it difficult to socialize with U.S-born peers. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allows young immigrants who were brought here as children to remain in the U.S., work, obtain a driver’s license, and study. Students face mistreatment by faculty, staff, and students and struggle with feelings of isolation and coping with stress and anxiety. To access college resources (i.e., scholarships, internship), college students negotiate the fear of disclosing their legal status to college administrators. This can hinder their willingness to place themselves in situations, to contemplate the risks involved, and limit choices when socializing.

Too Much Social Networking

How you choose to spend your time is a delicate balance. Social media is an integral part of the social landscape in college. From tweeting about a football game, to posting an album on Facebook about your spring break, to beefing up your LinkedIn profile before a job hunt, to posting a reel of party hijinks on Instagram, social networking is everywhere in college, and it’s likely to stay. Remember to be thoughtful about what you post and maintain digital boundaries. Content you post may be seen by future employers. Some things online will never go away (even after you delete them).

The following video gives an insider look at why college students use social media.

Video: The True Reasons College Students Use Social Media

Despite the many benefits, as you know, social networking can be a major distraction. If social networking is getting in the way of any part of your college success—whether its social or academic success—take a break and disconnect for a while.

Here are ten reasons why you may wish to step away from social media, at least temporarily: When It’s Time to Unplug—10 Reasons Why Too Much Social Media Is Bad for You

With a Little Help from My Friends

In a 2014 research study by the University of California-Los Angeles (the American Freshman Survey), 153,000 full-time, first-year students at more than 200 four-year public and private institutions were surveyed. Only 18 percent of those surveyed said they spend more than 16 hours weekly with friends. Compare this data point with a similar survey conducted in 1987: in that year, two-thirds of surveyed students said they spent more than 16 hours each week socializing.

What accounts for this change? Are academic pursuits now taking a larger percentage of students’ time? Is socializing being replaced by part-time jobs? And what is the impact of less socializing? You can read about the survey results to find out more: College Freshmen Socialize Less, Feel Depressed More.

For now, keep in mind the many benefits of socializing in college. It’s possible to have a healthy social life that’s balanced with other responsibilities.

Campus Police

College students, particularly Black and brown students, may experience negative interactions with campus police officers. This can shape the sense of belonging on campus and presumed to be intruders. Providing a school ID proves the right and access to campus spaces and facilities (library, food spaces, computer lab).

Healthy Boundaries

Setting boundaries, which are guidelines for expectations, responsibilities, and limits for yourself and other people, are helpful for success. The benefits for setting boundaries is better time management, stronger personal connections, and less guilt. They are helpful and remind you to support and/or adjust the boundaries you want and your goals. To decline invitations, use the “Yes… and…” strategy. For example, “Yes, that sounds really important, and I have other commitments that day.” For more suggestions on setting boundaries that promote self-care and balance autonomy and interdependence, reach out to the Counseling and Services and Health Services on campus.

Portland State University master’s student Belinda produced this YouTube video emphasizing self-care for busy students:

Video: 4 Self-Care Tips for Busy Students

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Original:

CC licensed content, Shared previously:

All rights reserved content:

  • The True Reasons College Students Use Social Media. Authored by: Luke Carmichael. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License
  • 4 Self-Care Tips for Busy Students. Authored by: Belinda. Located at: License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License

Adaptions: Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom essay removed (exists elsewhere in this work), removed quote, relocated learning objectives. Added Bullying section.


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Blueprint for Success in College and Career Copyright © 2019 by Lumen Learning; Linda Bruce Hill; and Norma Cárdenas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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