A Letter to the Nervous Introverted College Freshman

Dear nervous, introverted college freshman,

You did it! You completed four years of rigorous classes, long hours of studying, and balancing school obligations with friends, family, and fun. You walked across that stage at graduation, shook your school president/principal’s hand, and walked back to your seat with that all-important diploma.

Now you’re getting ready to do it all again. But this time, (probably) away from home, without the friends you’ve made throughout the years—and with a more flexible schedule.

I remember those weeks leading up to my first year of college pretty well. I was excited to be living in a new city. I was excited to learn things high school hadn’t taught me and to start working toward a career I loved. I wanted to keep discovering who I was and to find the kind of woman that I wanted to be.

But I was also nervous, because I knew I was a quiet person. I’ve never had an easy time making friends, and parties and large gatherings were never my thing. I was a “smart kid” and didn’t doubt that I’d do well on the academic side of college. But I wasn’t too sure about the social side.

Dear incoming freshmen, college is an important and unique opportunity for you. Sure, you’ll take all your required classes and maybe get an internship or two. Hopefully you’ll land a job shortly after graduating. But beyond that, college will give you new opportunities for growth outside the classroom: you’ll meet new people who have perspectives different from your own. You’ll find new friend groups, and you’ll try new things. And those things can be just as important to your college experience as the classes, grades, and internships.

Maybe you’re scared like I was when I was getting ready to start that new phase. Maybe the thought of extracurriculars, crowded football games, and living with a roommate has you worried.

PH circle 2What’s your personality type? Knowing your personality can help you leverage your natural strengths. Take the free personality test from our partner Personality Hacker.

To which I say: it’s okay to be nervous. Moving away from home and being dropped in a new environment without the security and familiarity of family and old friends is intimidating.

But I’ll also say: you’ve totally got this, and you’re gonna be okay.

I’ll be honest with you. There’s a lot I wish I had done differently when I was in college. I’m way introverted. Like, in college, I sometimes went days without talking to anyone outside of my classes or extra-curricular obligations. I wasn’t hanging out with people as often as I should have. I let anxieties about my personality and how people perceived me get the best of me.

But eventually, I did find some practices that worked for me. So, I want to give you some tips for how to make the most of your first year of college as an introvert:

1. Take advantage of those first few weeks. Set up clear expectations and boundaries with your roommate and respect their needs, too. Grab ice cream with your neighbors on the weekend. Get to know some of the people on your floor through resident hall programming or study groups. You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but those first few weeks and months will hopefully give you a good feel for who you click with.

2. Join a club or take part in an extra-curricular that interests you. These are great ways for introverts to meet people; meetings and practices are often structured, which usually jives better with introverts than an unstructured free-for-all social event. And those unstructured times will hopefully be easier for you once you’ve gelled with some people. Be sure to hang out with them outside of those meetings, too! Some of my favorite memories and dearest friends in college came from my involvement in campus ministry and the English department’s literary magazine staff.

3. Be honest about your personality. This is one that I wish I had done a better job with. So your friends want to go to the Friday night game or to trivia night at the local BWW’s but you’re not too sure if you’re up for it? That’s okay. But don’t give excuses like, “I need to catch up on sleep” or “I need to study.” Explain your introverted personality to them and tell them that sometimes you don’t feel like going out or being somewhere loud and busy. People will respect you more if you’re honest. If they don’t understand your introverted nature, maybe it’s time to find new friends.

4. Get an on-campus job. Even if you don’t need one (like for work-study), it’s a good, simple way to meet people and to interact with folks that you might not normally talk to. These jobs are usually super-flexible and don’t require a huge time commitment each week, so you’ll be able to keep your sanity as you balance it with schoolwork. And hey, that extra cash is nice, too.

5. Go to on-campus events like lectures, drama productions, and art exhibitions. Go with friends, or go alone. Remember that it’s okay to do things alone. Strike up a friendly conversation with the person next to you. You might not find your new best friend that way, but you also might. Even if you don’t wind up talking to anyone, it’s a good way to take a study break and to get out of your room.

6. Keep in touch with friends and family back home. Don’t sever ties just because you’re not around anymore.

7. Meet with the school’s counselor, if you need to. The first year is often the hardest year. Adjustment issues abound. Sensitive introverts are more likely to experience them. I struggled with adjusting to my new setting during my freshman year, and I wish I had taken my own advice on this. If you start to feel anxious, or if you just feel like things aren’t going well, seek out those counselors. They’re there for you!

8. Remember that it’s okay to be an introvert. If you’re like me, you grew up receiving comments from well-meaning friends and family that made you feel bad about your quiet personality. Things like, “Why are you so quiet?” and “I didn’t know you could talk!” Or maybe you never got those kind of remarks. Either way, being introverted has its perks and drawbacks, just like extroversion—although college will probably make you feel like extroversion is the way to be. Remember that it’s okay to be an introvert. Your personality doesn’t need to be changed.

Now go get ‘em!

I believe in you,

Erin  retina_favicon1

Read this: An Open Letter to the Highly Sensitive Introvert About Authenticity