How to Make Friends in College: Tips for International Students

Seriously, though, dorms are great because of all the spontaneous social interaction they invite. Whether it’s hanging out in the common area doing homework, brushing your teeth in the community bathroom, or staging an impromptu hallway Nerf battle at 2 am on a Tuesday, it’s a fertile ground for friendships to develop.

Making Friends in College

How to Make Friends in College: Tips for International Students

Many international students build lifelong friendships and connections while studying in the US — but it may be hard to connect with people at first. If you are wondering how to make friends in college, this guide will help.

Two female and one male student holding their notebooks in their laps, laugh during a conversation while sitting outside.

Understanding how to make friends in college is one of the most rewarding experiences for international students in the USA. Social relationships can help you feel happier and more connected, and many college friends will become lifelong friends. If you are unsure about how to connect with people, keep reading: This guide will go over where to meet people in college, what to talk about, and how to develop your social skills.

A quote from William Butler Yeats perfectly describes the experience of international students attending US colleges. He said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.” Whether you are wondering how to make friends in college classes or hoping to connect with other students in your dorm, think of the people around you as potential friends, not strangers.

How to Connect With People

When you first arrive in the United States, you might be self-conscious about your English language skills. But speak English anyway. The more you speak, the stronger your English will become. Starting conversations with your classmates and fellow college students will help you make friends and improve your social skills.

Where are you from? Asking where someone is from shows that you are interested in learning more about them. It starts a conversation with many follow-up topics. You might ask what their home state is like or what they miss most about high school. The United States is a large and diverse country, so you can learn a lot from this simple question.

Have you seen any good movies lately? or Have you heard any good songs lately? The answers can help you learn more about your conversation partner and about American culture at the same time. You might also discover new movies and music.

Excuse me, what does [word or phrase] mean? This is a great way to improve your English. Most people like sharing their knowledge, so they will be happy to help. You can tell them that you are an international student, which may lead them to ask where you are from or how to say the same phrase in your native language.

What is your major? Why did you choose it? This is a common opening line for students who are meeting each other for the first time, even if neither of them are international students. Everyone in college is studying something and can help you get to know them better.

What do you think of the food here? This is a perfect way to start a conversation in the dining hall. Most people love talking about food. They might encourage you to try something new or compare the dining hall meals to the foods they ate when they were growing up. (Just remember not to talk with your mouth full. Many Americans consider it rude.)

To keep a conversation going, avoid questions that lead to a yes or no answer. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you like about it?” or “Why did you choose that one?” These types of questions naturally lead to longer conversations.

How to Make Friends in College: A Comprehensive Guide

The first person I consciously remember calling my “friend” (and later, “best friend”) was someone I met in preschool. I was probably four years old. We had similar interests, and complementary personalities (he was the big picture idea guy, I was the detail-oriented do-er).

As I’ve continued through life, my friendships have shifted. I’ve made new friends along the way, deepened my relationship with existing friends, and fallen out of touch with others. When you look at it this way, it seems like friendship is something that just “happens.” You can’t control it, it would seem, and maybe it’s better not to. After all, you can’t force friendship.

Yet, what I’ve come to realize in the past couple years is that while you can’t force or manufacture friendship, you can seek and cultivate it. It isn’t completely out of your control. In fact, since it’s such an important part of living a happy life, it’s something that you put on autopilot at your peril.

One of the best things about college is all the opportunities it gives you to start fresh. This is especially the case with friends. You’re in a new place surrounded by literally thousands of people you’ve never met before. All of these people are potential friends. You just have to seek them out.

That’s why I put this article together. I want to help you turn your feeling of overwhelm into a feeling of opportunity and excitement. Excitement at the insane number of opportunities you have to make new friends while in college. Whether it’s your first semester or your final semester, this article will show you how to make new friends and deepen existing friendships in college and beyond.


What do these two areas have in common? They’re where you spent most of your time as a kid. So the reason you had the friends you had was quite simply that you spent lots of time repeatedly interacting with them.

Now, there are some important caveats. I’m not saying that geography determines all. Shared interests and personality play a very important role as well. You were obviously drawn more to some people than others. Perhaps you admired how outgoing the other person was, while they were drawn to your calmness. Perhaps you both liked trading Pokémon cards, or both preferred recess over story time.

Once more, the key factor was spending lots of time together doing shared activities, activities that reflected at least some sort of shared interest or value. People join marching band for lots of different reasons, for instance, but most of them are bound to share at least a couple of those reasons in common.

Now that we’ve covered why we have the friends we do, let’s go out and find some. I know this may seem kind of weird. After all, friendship is one of those things society tells us should just happen naturally. Actively seeking friendship can seem unnatural.

I think, however, that being intentional about your relationships is one of the keys to a happy life. Unlike your family, you have control over who your friends are. It makes sense, then, to be deliberate in choosing friends. Actively seeking out friends means you’re more likely to have people around you who energize you, make you laugh, and support you during difficult times.

Now that we’ve established the importance of being intentional about who your friends are, we can move on to the how part. I’ve broken this next part into three sections to make it easier to navigate and review later.

Part 1: 9 Places to Find Friends in College

Something that I’ve struggled with in the past is where exactly I should go to meet potential friends. This might seem obvious to some people. But if you’re an introvert like me, it can be helpful to have a defined list of places, as it takes some of the mystery and worry out of potential interactions.

Even if you’re a very social person, you may not have realized all the possible places that you can go to meet people in college. It’s pretty ridiculous when you think about it, especially if you go to a larger school.

So here are nine places to find friends in college. This isn’t a complete list, but it’s a great place to get started. If you think of other places I missed, please share them in the comments.

1. Campus Events

Thomas is fond of saying that college is a lot like a four year TED or SXSW conference. Nowhere is this clearer than in campus events. Here are just a few of the types of events that were common at my college:

Where to meet new friends

There are many great ways to make friends in college, but in fact, you are a lot better off if you are in the right place. The best places to make friends in college are dorms, study sessions, gyms, volunteering or just hanging out in public places. Take my experience as an example. My first week at Texas State was quite lonely. I wanted to meet new people in case I need help getting around the campus. Then I thought to myself, “I like playing soccer, why don’t I participate in intramural games after classes?” So, I went to the recreational center to find some friends. I eventually met many Texas State’s students with similar interests. That night, I made more than twenty friends because I went to the right place at the right time. If you are not into sports, you can definitely make friends through study sessions. For example, you must have something in common with your classmate. Join a learning course even though you don’t need it, or better yet, organize a learning course for yourself and your classmates. They will appreciate your efforts. This can also be a good way for everyone to learn and understand each other at the same time.

In life, various people prefer different choices. One cannot force others to think the way they do. If you are antisocial or love being in crowded places, you may choose your path. For everyone, friendship is important to some extent. However, when you go to college, you can expand your knowledge on specific topics and as a person. Friends can be great resources to get around the campus. Having more friends means having more knowledge of what’s around you. When you apply for a job after graduation, the employers will ask you questions about the skills and knowledge base and the ability to work in a team. Eventually, you will have to work and get along with managers and supervisors. There are many forms to get along with people, one of them is friendship.


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