How to Make Friends in College: Tips for International Students

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 7, 2023

Many international students build lifelong friendships and connections while studying in the US — but it may be hard to connect with people at first. If you are wondering how to make friends in college, this guide will help.

Two female and one male student holding their notebooks in their laps, laugh during a conversation while sitting outside.

Understanding how to make friends in college is one of the most rewarding experiences for international students in the USA. Social relationships can help you feel happier and more connected, and many college friends will become lifelong friends. If you are unsure about how to connect with people, keep reading: This guide will go over where to meet people in college, what to talk about, and how to develop your social skills. 

A quote from William Butler Yeats perfectly describes the experience of international students attending US colleges. He said, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.” Whether you are wondering how to make friends in college classes or hoping to connect with other students in your dorm, think of the people around you as potential friends, not strangers. 

How to Connect With People

When you first arrive in the United States, you might be self-conscious about your English language skills. But speak English anyway. The more you speak, the stronger your English will become. Starting conversations with your classmates and fellow college students will help you make friends and improve your social skills.

Here are some conversation starters for international students:

  • Where are you from? Asking where someone is from shows that you are interested in learning more about them. It starts a conversation with many follow-up topics. You might ask what their home state is like or what they miss most about high school. The United States is a large and diverse country, so you can learn a lot from this simple question.

  • Have you seen any good movies lately? or Have you heard any good songs lately? The answers can help you learn more about your conversation partner and about American culture at the same time. You might also discover new movies and music.

  • Excuse me, what does [word or phrase] mean? This is a great way to improve your English. Most people like sharing their knowledge, so they will be happy to help. You can tell them that you are an international student, which may lead them to ask where you are from or how to say the same phrase in your native language.

  • What is your major? Why did you choose it? This is a common opening line for students who are meeting each other for the first time, even if neither of them are international students. Everyone in college is studying something and can help you get to know them better.

  • What do you think of the food here? This is a perfect way to start a conversation in the dining hall. Most people love talking about food. They might encourage you to try something new or compare the dining hall meals to the foods they ate when they were growing up. (Just remember not to talk with your mouth full. Many Americans consider it rude.)

To keep a conversation going, avoid questions that lead to a yes or no answer. Ask open-ended questions such as, “What do you like about it?” or “Why did you choose that one?” These types of questions naturally lead to longer conversations. 

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How to Meet People in College

You might wonder: How long does it take to make friends in college? The answer depends on you and your willingness to seek out opportunities to meet and interact with people.

My advice for students is to join programs and clubs and socialize right away to try to make friends.” – Basma from Egypt, University of the Pacific 

Attending events and getting involved in campus groups or clubs will help you find potential friends, have fun, and discover new interests and communities.

  • Check your college events calendar. You can find campus events to match your preferences, from performances to special lectures to parties. Attend anything that sounds like fun so you can meet people with similar interests who may become your friends.

  • Attend sporting events. Sports are an important part of American culture, especially on college campuses. Seek out sporting events throughout the school year. Whether you invite people to join you or start chatting with people sitting nearby, you can get to know sports lovers of all kinds. You can even join a sports club on campus (often called an intramural sports team).

  • Explore your new home. Organize a trip to visit local tourist sites, museums, or events. You can invite neighbors, classmates, and other people you meet so you can all discover fun places together.

  • Consider campus jobs. A campus job can help you earn some extra money while also getting to know different people on campus. Talk to your international student advisor about campus jobs that will boost your resume — and your social relationships.

  • Start a study group. Whether you need a little extra help in class or just prefer learning with friends, a study group can help you get to know people in your classes better.

  • Join a fraternity or sorority. These social and academic organizations can help you meet lots of people and build a group of friends. Do your research before pledging so that you can find one that seems like a good fit.

  • Find a club. Most college campuses have clubs for just about everything. Joining a campus club is a great way to meet fellow college students with similar interests. If there is not already a club for what you enjoy, start one!

You can also meet potential friends by just talking to people in your classes. Strike up a conversation and remember to smile. When you seem open and interested in meeting people, they will be happy to meet you.

I played basketball in China for the past 10 years and wanted to continue here as it’s my favorite sport. Last year, I played on the intramural basketball team. We made it to the quarter finals! I also made a lot of friends by joining the team.” – Isaac from China, Florida International University

How to Make Friends at a Big University 

Making friends at a big university can seem intimidating at first, but remember that many other students are new, too. They also want to make friends and will appreciate that you reached out. As you get more confident, you will find it even easier to start conversations and form friendships. 

Here are a few more ways to make friends, even if you go to a university with lots of people.

  • Americans tend to be outgoing, and many Americans are open and friendly. If your culture is different, observe the people around you and try acting similarly to see what works and what you are comfortable with.

  • Take an interest in people. If you want people to like you, show that you are interested in them. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Remember things that people say and use them as conversation topics later. If someone says something you do not understand, ask for more details.

  • Look for openings — literally. If a neighbor has their dorm room door open, stop in and introduce yourself. If there is an open seat in the dining hall, ask if you can sit there. Spend time in public areas like common rooms and coffee shops. Looking for opportunities to meet new people makes it a lot easier to make friends.

  • Be inviting. Leave your dorm room door open to encourage others to come in. If you are going to the dining hall, gym, or a party, invite someone to come along. You never know when an informal invitation can turn into a long-lasting friendship.

Although meeting people can seem scary at first, it is worth the effort and is a big part of your international education. Knowing how to make friends in college will make your time as an international student a lot more fun. You will build lasting friendships and positive connections. So smile and say hello — you might meet your new best friend.

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