In Praise of an Extra SemesterConnie Lissner
To thrive instead of just survive, college students need to find community.
Community is a friend or a group of friends who feel like home — who allow your student to grow into the person they want to become, and stand beside them throughout their college years and beyond.
All new freshmen want to make friends but it doesn’t happen overnight. To find your people, you have to put yourself out there. In my case, it took a whole semester (and a firm nudge from my parents) to find a group of close friends at my large public university. The first few months on campus, in a new place without the circle of friends I’d grown up with, I felt adrift. Seeing this, my parents pushed me to check out The Annex, a college ministry that my older brother had attended, and to sign up for an Annex service trip to Costa Rica. Despite my reservations (as in I didn’t know a single person on the trip!), I gave it a shot. That decision changed my life. On that trip I found my community.
Your newly independent first-year student is in the driver’s seat now, able to make their own choices about how to spend their time outside of the classroom. They're no longer limited to the experiences and personalities of their hometown, or the high school pressure to blend in. In college, they get to celebrate what makes them stand out.
One of the coolest things about college is the incredible variety of opportunities. If your student isn’t sure where to start on the road to building community, here are some options worth checking out.
These are a great way for students to engage with individuals of similar backgrounds or lifestyles. The University of California Santa Cruz, for example, has a large selection of student-run groups, including chapters of the Sikh Student Association; Prism: Student Coalition for Gender, Sex, & Sexuality; Iranian Student Association; College Diabetes Network; Black Student Union; Hermanas Unidas; and Hmong Student Association among many, many others. No matter your student’s unique identity, they can find a place to embrace it among peers, and many of these groups welcome allies and host campus-wide activities.
For serious (and not-so-serious!) athletes, intramural and club sports are a fantastic way to meet people and feel part of a tight-knit group. Intramural sports provide a range of men’s, women’s and coed team and individual activities. Club sports are a more competitive option for those who want to compete at the local, intercollegiate, regional or even national level.
No matter what sparks your student’s interest, there is likely a club that caters to it. From school publications and student government to groups centered around chess, creative writing, entrepreneurship, yoga, bee-keeping, fashion, mathematics and more, there truly is something for everyone.
Students looking for a truly immersive social experience may want to look into Greek life if there are chapters on their campus. These “brotherhoods” and “sisterhoods” involve communal living, secret handshakes and social calendars chock-full of meetings, philanthropic events, parties and bonding experiences. Sororities and fraternities can be expensive, but they often pay off in the long run. Alumni look out for their brothers and sisters, which translates into prime networking opportunities for graduates.
Cheering at games, attending events or getting involved in volunteer work are fun ways for your student to feel like they are truly a part of their school.
Volunteer and social justice opportunities: Suggest that your student explore the college’s website for opportunities to volunteer in the community or sign up for an “alternative break” trip (these may be local projects over shorter breaks, or involve travel to other parts of the U.S. or even abroad).
Intercollegiate athletics: Sporting events are a prime place to meet people, and also the perfect way to foster team spirit and feel connected to their school and classmates.
Campus events and performances: Calendars boasting a wealth of school-affiliated events, from concerts and lectures to art and photography exhibits, can be found on the college website. Encourage your student to check the calendar every week or two to see what sparks their interest.
Take a class in a new academic area: As your student digs into General Education classes and courses required for their major, there should still be time to take a few classes just for the joy of discovery. Cheer them on as they embrace the challenge of moving outside their intellectual comfort zone. The bonus: a chance to get to know classmates they might not otherwise cross paths with.