Editor's Note: This report is part of a continuing series offering advice to students at colleges and universities on how to be successful throughout their educational experience.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of young people enter higher education for the first time. So it might seem easy for new students to make friends, right?
Not always. College official Matt Couch admits that life at a college or university can be lonely sometimes. Couch is Associate Dean of Students at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Couch notes that many students, especially new ones, face a number of difficulties ahead of them. High school academics are usually less demanding than those at a college or university. So, high school students are likely to have succeeded with less effort than they will need in college, he says.
Most students have strong connections to their homes and the people they grew up with, he adds.
These issues are often combined with natural feelings of homesickness.
“If they don’t find someone that they connect with right away ... that can … lead to all kinds of issues,” Couch told VOA. “But at most college campuses, there’s … a life outside the classroom that’s really vibrant, and there're going to be people that share a common interest. It’s just a matter of finding them.”
Couch says the answer is joining student organizations. Almost every college and university in the United States supports a community of these groups to help students find other people with whom they can connect. Ohio State has around 1,400.
These groups can be based around almost any interest, like watching movies or creative writing. The ones that are less serious do serve the purpose of helping students meet people who enjoy the same things as them. For example, at one point the largest group at Ohio State was built around enjoying the kind of food known as barbecue. Couch suggests that those new friends can become the support system a student is missing back home.
But he also notes that the ones centered on a field of study can be even more helpful to students. Research has shown that involvement in these groups helps students’ academic performance and makes them more likely to graduate.
If an economics student joins a student-run economics group, he or she will meet on a usual basis with other students to discuss economics. Their group will likely invite experts in the field to their school to give presentations, or they might take trips to economics-linked events.
In short, Couch notes, they are taking what they are learning in the classroom and making use of it in the real world. And that can be helpful later in life.
“When you’re involved, that’s going to give you experiences that you can draw upon for problem-solving and for relating to other people,” he said. “And … I think that employers are … more interested in students who have an extra dimension [to] their college experience.”
Couch urges students who cannot find a student group on their campus that interests them not to worry. Most colleges and universities make it fairly easy for students to start their own groups.
Usually there are rules governing the structure of those groups. For example, most schools require groups to meet a membership level. Also most groups must have a professor or other school employee to act as an accountable advisor.
Getting official approval as a group has some benefits. Often these groups receive financial support and services from the university.
Even if there is already an existing group that is somewhat similar to a student’s interests, that does not mean they cannot make their own group, Couch says.
Schools often have rules against making more than one of the exact same group. But administrators often approve the creation of groups that serve a smaller population, such as female African American engineers as opposed to engineers in general. That is because especially at larger colleges and universities, it can be harder for those people to find others sharing their exact experiences.
Couch argues that no matter what, students should join some kind of campus group, because he cannot imagine a complete college experience without them.
“It’s pretty rare in a person’s life to be in a community that has that much organization around … diverse ideas," he said. "And it could really be the best opportunity you’ll ever have to get some exposure to a new culture or new political ideas or to do service.”
I’m Pete Musto.
Pete Musto reported this story for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor. We want to hear from you. What kinds of activities go on outside the classrooms at colleges and universities in your country? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.
Words in This Story
academics – n. courses of study taken at a school or college
campus(es) – n. the area and buildings around a university, college, school
vibrant – adj. having or showing great life, activity, and energy
graduate – v. to earn a degree or diploma from a school, college, or university
dimension – n. a part of something
accountable – adj. required to be responsible for something
benefit(s) – n. a good or helpful result or effect
diverse – adj. made up of people or things that are different from each other
opportunity – n. an amount of time or a situation in which something can be done
exposure – n. the fact or condition of being affected by something or experiencing something