Commuter student blues

Originally Published: May 21, 2004 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 23, 2009
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Hi Alice,

I'm currently coming into my second year at a famous but huge university in a big, crowded city. My first year had its ups and downs, but I made a couple friends. The problem is, I commute, and I'm finding it hard socially. I've been depressed for the past year, thinking I'm regressing because I'm not meeting as many people as a normal student would. How does one go from meeting someone in class to hanging out with them on weekends? I feel like I am mostly the one initiating, so I feel like I'm imposing. In addition, the university is rigorous, so I don't always have the time to join the clubs. Any tips on how to make a lot of friends from classes even though I am not dorming?

Depressed College Student

Dear Depressed College Student,

College can be tough enough without the added pressures of commuting to and from school in a crowded city. Commuter students often feel at a disadvantage when it comes to getting involved in campus activities and building their social network. Opportunities for interactions with fellow students may seem limited. To address this, some colleges and universities offer programs, such as free coffee in a lounge, or a listserv that provides information about events and activities, specifically for commuters. You can check with your university's student information or activities center to find out what programs are available for commuter students. Or, look into starting your own group to meet and talk about issues of commuting and connecting.

Contact or meet a student group leader of a club you are interested in. Tell him/her that you know you'd like to help out somehow, and that because you commute, you may not be able to attend meetings regularly. Keep up with your commitments and then attend meetings when you can for the social aspect.

College students are not expected to have a certain number of friends in order to feel as though they are a part of their college community. Friendships take time to develop, and that can be frustrating. If your expectations are high, you may feel let down when you don't make that initial connection with a person, or if you think that your time together will be limited to class time. Don't give up — start with small steps. For example, you mentioned meeting a couple of friends during your first year. Perhaps you can build on those relationships. Look them up and arrange to hang out with them on a weekend, or after a class. Encourage them to bring along a friend and to expand your network. Bring one of your friends, too! If you are interested in meeting people from your class, organize a study group before your next exam. You may even be able to get the professor to pass around a sign-up sheet, or you can do it yourself. If the session goes well, suggest going out for coffee or tea afterward. Some may take you up on it, some may not — but now that you have been introduced, it will be easier to speak with them after class. If you are worried about imposing, remember to give people choices. Demanding or insisting that someone spend time with you is imposing. If you give people a choice, then it is fine to initiate.

You also mentioned that you have been depressed for the past year. Feelings of depression can cause you to be less confident in social situations. Also, putting too much pressure on yourself can make social situations even more challenging or frustrating. Have you seen a health care provider or mental health care professional about your concerns? Many colleges and universities offer counseling and psychological services as part of their health services and/or on a referral basis that can be helpful. Perhaps you could set up an appointment that fits well with your schedule to talk about what you're feeling. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) or, for CUMC students, try reaching out to the Mental Health Service.

For additional ideas, check out Graduate students meet graduate students? in the Go Ask Alice! Relationships archive. While these ideas are specific to Columbia, you may get some ideas to use at your campus.

Alice