Commuter student blues
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 given that opportunities for interaction with fellow students may seem limited. To help address this, some colleges and universities offer programs such as free coffee in a lounge or even provide commuter students with a listserv that has information about events and activities happening on campus. You can check with your university's student information or activities center to find out what programs are available for commuter students. You could also look into starting your own group in order to meet and talk about issues of commuting and connecting. Additionally, you could get in touch with a student group leader of a club you're interested in and let them that you know you'd like to help out somehow, and that because you commute, you may not be able to attend meetings regularly. They may be able to help come up with other ways to help you get involved that also accommodate your commuting schedule, which would allow you to get to know more members.
Friendships take time to develop, and it can sometimes be a frustrating process. If your expectations are high, you may feel let down when you don't make that initial connection with a person, or may think that your time together will be limited to class time. However, don't give up on your efforts, as you may just need to start with small steps. For example, you mentioned meeting a couple of friends during your first year. Perhaps you can build on those relationships and try to arrange to hang out with them after a class. Additionally, you can encourage them to bring along a friend, which can assist you in your quest to expand your social network. In terms of meeting people from your class, you could be to try and organize a study group before your next exam to help you strike a connection with someone. 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.
You mentioned being worried about imposing — giving someone a choice to spend time with you isn't an imposition since they can always say no. In many cases, it will take a lot of time spent with people before you become friends, and if people are responding favorably, there's nothing wrong with continuing to initiate get togethers. However, if they repeatedly say no, it would be best to take that as your cue that they're not interested and pursue relationships with others who may also be looking for friendships.
Finally, you also mentioned that you have been feeling depressed for the past year. Feelings of depression can cause you to be less confident and can lead you to add more pressure on yourself in social situations, making them even more challenging or frustrating. Have you had the chance to see a health care provider or mental health professional about your concerns? It may be helpful to know that many colleges and universities offer counseling and psychological services as part of their health services, or are able to act as a referral for other mental health professionals. Perhaps, if you feel comfortable doing so, you could set up an appointment with a mental health professional that fits well with your schedule to talk about what you're feeling, as they can assist you in finding methods that can help you cope and manage your feelings of depression.
Best of luck with your social networking!
Originally published May 20, 2004
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