To those of you out there from a small town or a small private or public school, you may have the same concerns I had about coming to RIT. RIT’s student body is almost 19,000 students; I was heading here from a graduating class of 70. I felt that I needed to get out of high school and move on, but was simultaneously nervous about leaving everybody I'd known for years. I was pretty outgoing in high school, and thought that I’d have no problem in college making close friends. It actually ended up taking some time for me to find a group of people to fit in with at RIT, but it wasn’t impossible! Here are some tips from my experience.
1. Introduce yourself to EVERYBODY
This is a tricky because amongst the bustling week of Orientation, your peers may seem stressed, nervous, or overwhelmed. It may seem like people are being reserved, and that’s because most of them are handling the same things you are! Making sure to put your name out there every opportunity you get is a great way to make acquaintances. Even if people don’t remember your name, they’ll remember how you stuck your neck out and approached them; this goes a long way.
2. Join EVERYTHING, even if you don’t stick with it
During the club fair during Orientation week, you’ll have the opportunity to walk around and see every club and organization on campus. They’ll have sign up lists, and you should put your name down for as many as possible! Joining clubs on campus is likely to surround you with people with similar interests and temperaments. I was a study rat my first 2 years, and I struggled to find things that took up my time other than school. Joining clubs expands your reach, and gives you opportunities to have fun and do something other than study! I’ve made my best friends through the clubs I’ve joined and stuck with. Between the Physician Assistant Student Association, to the Freestyle Snowboard Team, to my fraternity, I’ve really found a sense of home at RIT.
3. The Orientation Mixing Pot
Orientation is a great time to make acquaintances and friends, but don’t be discouraged if you don’t find your best friend in your first week. Orientation groups are organized into a random mixture of students, so you may have to reach out past it during your first week if you don't click with anyone (which is fine!). Use your residence hall floor, people from your major, and those you sit around during presentations to exchange names and interests! Also, don’t feel tied to the friends you meet during Orientation week. The group of people I met and spent time with during those first 3 weeks are quite different from the ones I spend my time with now. Keep pushing, and get out of your dorm room to go to evening events.
4. Use the buddy system
If you meet someone with similar interests, go try new things together. Find someone that you can go to events with, even if they’re out of your comfort zone. They don’t have to be your best friend, but it’s good to have somebody that can pull you out of your room and go explore with. Try a new club with them, so you’re in it together. It’s much easier to walk into a group of people you don’t know (club meetings) if you have someone with you to help start conversations with those around you.
5. Study hard, but not the whole time!
When I came to RIT, I coped with things by studying. While this may not seem like a bad thing, it can really isolate you from all of the great things happening on campus! While grades and academics are the number one reason you are here, don’t let it take you away from being a college student. There are TONS of events run by the College Activities Board that take you off campus for recreational activities that are heavily discounted for students. Get out with your newly joined club, go to No Voice Zone to learn ASL, go see a movie on Thursday night in Ingle Auditorium, or check your email to see where you can get free food and learn a new skill. There is always something happening on campus, so there’s never a reason to be bored!
6. Be prepared to move out of your comfort zone
If you want to enjoy such a diverse campus, you do have to be prepared try new things. This was very difficult for me personally, as I tended to fall back on the same habits or people I was comfortable with. Pushing yourself to apply for a leadership position such as being an Orientation Leader after your first year, Student Government, or within a club can bring fulfillment to your time outside of academic. Try a new cultural dance, intramural sport, or do volunteer work. Or, go even further and join a club or varsity sport. These are all great ways to increase your spectrum of activity and feel happy and fulfilled here.
Finally, don’t get discouraged! It’s perfectly natural to have tough times in college. Personal life stressors, heavy class loads, and social problems can all be tough to deal with. It’s important to remember that everyone goes through times like this. Make time to relax and spend time with friends, go to relaxing events on campus (like Bow Wow Wellness, pictured above, where you can go relax and pet therapy dogs!), I know I have, and I came out of it all happier than I have been in my whole life. Things are constantly in motion and changing at RIT, and you should strive to be dynamic as well. Just keep working to find your niche, and say welcome to some of the most exciting years of your life!