My first semester of college will be done virtually — how am I supposed to make friends?

Group Chat is In The Know’s brand new advice column, where our editors respond to your questions about dating, friendships, family, social media and beyond. Have a question for the chat? Submit it here and we’ll do our best to reply.

Hey, Group Chat,

I’m a soon-to-be-college-freshman, and my school just announced it will be going fully remote for at least my first semester due to coronavirus, and TBD after that. I fully understand we’re experiencing a global pandemic right now, so I feel selfish for thinking about it this way, but this situation truly makes me feel like the world is ending.

I’m terrified that a virtual first semester means I won’t ever be able to make real friends, have fun and develop the lifelong connections everyone always talks about. The people my older sister met during her first week away at college are still her best friends to this day, and it kills me to think I might miss out on that.

What can I do here to stop my college experience from being completely ruined?

Sincerely, Emotionally Distanced

Dear Emotionally Distanced,

Kelsey Weekman, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill ’16, says — Just like yourself, your fellow classmates will 100 percent be eager to meet new people and make lifelong connections when coronavirus restrictions ease and you can head to campus. But, friendships aside, being a virtual student shouldn’t prevent you from living out the freshman year experience to the fullest. Wear a lanyard around your neck for the first month of remote classes — an authentic freshman year mistake. Dress head-to-toe in your school’s colors. Make your parents (or whoever you’re quarantined with) do it, too! The more the merrier. You will get through this and end up sharing a communal dorm bathroom with 20 people soon enough.

Dillon Thompson, University of Georgia ’17, says — It’s very likely your school already has a detailed plan in place for the unprecedented times we’re living in. Freshman year is crucial because colleges want to maintain a high retention rate — that is, they want students to return the following school year and, eventually, graduate. To put it simply, it is not in your school’s best interest to toss you a Zoom code and call it a day — they are interested in keeping you happy and are probably planning some virtual ice breaker games, raffles and mixers to help you meet people.

As awkward as these events can feel, they’re a great place to meet your future pals. Picture this: You’re going around a Zoom call sharing fun facts and someone — there’s always someone — is oversharing in such a dramatic way that you can’t help but squirm with discomfort. Look around the video call and make eye contact with the other person who obviously also wants to melt away from the conversation. Boom, instant friends.

Justin Chan, Queens College ’11, says —Making connections in your actual classes is key. You’re about to spend upwards of 50 percent of your time in Zoom calls with these people, so take note of their names and look them up on social media. You’ll get a better sense of who these people are based on their TikToks, Instagrams and Twitter accounts. And, if you click with someone’s aesthetic or just think they’re very cool, give them a follow and reach out to them — remember, just like yourself, everyone else is also trying to get followers meet people.

Katie Mather, University of California, Los Angeles ’16, says — I went to an all-girls school and had never met a man until my freshman year of college. And I don’t mean in the, “How will I handle a meet-cute situation with my future husband when he accidentally knocks my books down?” sense; I mean, “Literally, how do I communicate with 50 percent of the incoming student body?”

The saving grace for all incoming freshmen — whether they’ve previously interacted with a member of the opposite sex before or not — is that everyone in college is eager to bond. If the only way to meet people is virtually, then get excited to meet them virtually. Do some detective work and seek out Facebook groups, social media pages and group chats related to your campus and your passions. Join in and strike up a conversation with other members — you’re bound to meet a couple of people who share the same interests as yourself, whether it’s a capella or fencing.

Morgan Greenwald, University of Southern California ’16, says — IMO, the pros of starting college virtually are monumental. You won’t have that roommate/almost-friend rushing Alpha Beta Whatever her first semester. (Don’t bother, she’s a goner the second she gets a bid). You’re not sweating it out with 100-plus people in a basement that’s violating fire code with no bathrooms on a “fun” Friday night. You won’t end up buying a bunch of “party clothes” that will sit in the back of your closet for the rest of your life (neon is not okay for an adult!). It feels like this experience is holding you back, but try to imagine the positives for now. As someone who spent the entirety of freshman year in a sorority before dropping out and just ~vibing~ for the remainder of college, I can assure you that there is more to school than what you see on “Blue Mountain State.”

Alex Lasker, New York University ’15, says — The thought of a virtual first semester of college is probably nothing like your visions of tossing a frisbee on the quad and consuming energy drinks in the library until 2 a.m., so it’s understandable you’re feeling pretty uncertain right now. However, those fears you’re experiencing about connecting and bonding with new people? They’re the same feelings every incoming freshman since the dawn of modern education has felt. It may not feel like it, but remember you are not alone here. Also, this arrangement is not forever. And even though everyone else in the world is experiencing similar discord during the pandemic, it’s still okay for you to feel wronged by the situation because freshman year of college seems like such a rite of passage.

TL;DR — Take some DEEP BREATHS. College is a major step in an individual’s life, and you’ll still be taking that step in the fall, just in a different way than you’d imagined. It’s understandable that you feel a little like your world is ending, but, it most certainly is not. Try to remember that tons of students starting college in 2020 are on the exact same playing field — bond with them over the unique shared struggle. 

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like reading last week’s Group Chat.

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