How to Thrive in College When You’re an Introvert

an introvert thrives in college

College isn’t made for extroverts. College is what YOU make of it.

To an introvert, attending college can feel similar to how Marlin, Nemo’s clownfish dad, felt leaving his anemone every day in the popular Disney movie. You leave your comfortable, safe home and travel to a big ocean of people where you’re expected to generate stimulating conversation. Talking to people isn’t hard, per se, but sometimes introverts don’t have the energy to introduce themselves to five new classmates in a row. There’s an ever-constant expectation to be social, and for an introvert, those expectations can feel like a twenty-pound weight on your shoulders:

There’s that woman from my class… I should say hi. It would be rude not to talk to her, wouldn’t it? I’ve passed ten groups of friends chatting up a storm, should I have a group of friends to talk to? 

Even if you’re moving to online classes, as many universities are this fall, there’s still pressure to have a fantastic social life. How do you balance the desire to stay home all day (using online classes as an excuse) and actually having a healthy social life outside your room? 

The fact that a lot of classes are going online due to COVID-19 is bringing joy to introverts around the world. No crowds, no problem, right? Well, even in the comfort of your own home, balancing school, roommates, and expectations can still be a challenge. As a fourth-year psychology student and a card-carrying introvert, here is my advice for both in-person and online school, and how to thrive in college as an introvert.

8 Tips for Introverts to Thrive in College

1. Always have headphones.

In-person: Headphones are a must for surviving college as an introvert. Even if I wasn’t talking to anyone, the sound of a dozen conversations around me would grow to be overwhelming after spending hours in that noisy environment. As introverts, we generally need calm and quiet to focus — and feel at our best. This is when you can find a deserted corner, pull out your headphones, and rock out to some soothing Hawaiian music… or whatever’s on your favorite playlist.

Online: COVID-19 has brought a lot of people home, meaning your roommates/family could possibly be in the house with you all day. This means loud music, dishes dropping in the kitchen, overheard conversations happening in other rooms, and many, many, other distractions — definitely not ideal for introverts. So invest in a quality pair of headphones to drown out the world while you work on your essay.

2. To eat alone or not to eat alone… that is the question.

In-person: Recognize that it’s okay to eat alone. To some introverts, high school was filled with panic-inducing moments at lunchtime when they looked for a table to sit at because it’s “not cool” to sit alone. But you have to remember that this is not high school. In college, people couldn’t CARE LESS if you sit alone. So grab your headphones, set up your laptop, and put on some Netflix. Use lunch as your introvert recharge time.

Online: If you’re online, you will be spending the morning on your laptop in your room. Even if you’re in another area of the house, you won’t be talking to anyone. So, at lunch, take a different approach: Use it as a social outlet. Eat when your roommates are eating, or visit your mom for a lunch break. Even introverts need to meaningfully fill that social bar! 

3. Schedule alone time.

In-person: Personally, I live by a schedule, especially at college. So instead of just scheduling my classes, I schedule alone time. For people who can’t easily go home between classes, it’s good to know when you can do some relaxing. So find out where the couches are in the building(s) and head over there between classes when it’s not your study time.

Online: You may be thinking, I’m spending all day alone. Why do I still need to schedule alone time? For introverts taking onlines classes, you may not need to schedule alone time, but schedule fun time. A whole day of reading textbook material can be exhausting, so figure out when you can sit back, relax, and watch You’ve Got Mail. Or another movie you love.

4. Find a designated seat in the library. 

In-person: You probably can’t reserve a specific seat in the library, but what you can do is scout out prospective seats beforehand. Have you ever been walking through a full classroom or a library and started to panic because you didn’t know where to sit? Head to campus in the morning and walk around your library. That way, you will look like you know where you’re going every time because you will know.

Online: If you’re online, the library may mean a random trip to your university once a month, or a weekly trip to your favorite cafe. The same rules apply. Trying to find a seat anywhere is nerve-wracking for an introvert because you feel as if the whole room is looking at you, wondering where you’re going to sit — and introverts hate all that attention! When you don’t know where to sit, you have a desire to turn invisible until you find a place so people will stop staring. So take the same advice from above and apply it to your public study spot.

5. Always bring a good book. 

In-person: Some days will be harder than others. Maybe you had a big weekend full of socializing, and you’re still drained by the time Monday comes but you can’t risk missing classes. Take a book that engrosses you — something you read just for fun — to take your mind off your studies and the people surrounding you.

Online: If you’re online, it will be inevitable that you won’t be socializing much due to health reasons. I find that a good book is a great way to trick your brain into thinking you’re filling your social bar when you’re really reading about fictional people filling their social needs. I’m not saying to rely on fictional worlds as your only source of socializing, but it definitely helps brighten your mood when you can’t hang out with your favorite person. 

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6. Create a long bedtime/morning routine.

This applies to both in-person and online university students. Whether you’re a night owl or a morning person, be sure to create a long morning or bedtime routine. As a night owl, having an hour-long bedtime routine after a busy day is the perfect way for me to unwind and recharge. Both the morning and evening are naturally quiet — the whole world around you is subdued and calm. There is less traffic, people talk in quieter voices, and loud stimuli is unwelcome and even frowned upon (no one mows the lawn at 10 p.m. or 6 a.m.). Take advantage of this and use it as your quiet time to prepare or recharge.

7. Occasionally step out of your comfort zone.

This also applies to both groups. Although it’s great to embrace what you’re comfortable with and create a routine around that, it’s also important for introverts to step out of their social comfort zones once in a while. Try introducing yourself to someone new, joining a club, or volunteering at an organization. When I had to choose a partner in my third-year English class, instead of choosing the safe option (looking to the woman beside me that I had previously borrowed notes from), I decided to look the other way and ask the cute guy sitting next to me to be partners. Nothing ever came of it, but it made my day that much better because I was able to talk to my crush “from afar” for half an hour. The great thing about being an introvert is you don’t need much to fill your “out of the box” meter.

8. Realize that introversion is a strength in college! 

In this article, Beverly Garside points out that even though extroverts seem to be the best fit for college, introverts like her can do very well academically because we don’t have a constant need to socialize. We are perfectly content studying in our rooms while extroverts can’t bear to miss a social event. Whenever you feel the expectations of others weighing on you, don’t think about how many friends others have compared to you. Put your energy into the few close friends you do have — all an introvert really needs, anyway — and focus on your strengths. 

College isn’t made for extroverts. College is what YOU make of it. If you build strong habits and stay focused on your strengths as an introvert, you won’t just survive… you’ll thrive.

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