Column: Socialization versus isolation in college


As one of five children, my house was always full growing up. From friends coming over for bonfires and movie nights, along with my parents hosting rowdy dinner parties full of neighbors and friends, socializing was a constant and welcomed occurrence. Therefore, while packing for college last August, I was excited to interact with tons of new people.

While much of the college experience is about getting an education and a degree, the social aspect is also a priority for most students, as it is for me. 

Whether it’s through classes, clubs, sports teams, Greek organizations or other groups on campus, students are constantly looking for ways to make new friends and form connections. 

Unfortunately, the formation of these connections is not always immediate and it is harder for some students more so than others. There are countless reasons some struggle to socialize, including shyness, social anxiety and being self-conscious. For these individuals, and even those with tons of friends, loneliness is very common in college. 

According to the American College Health Association, in a 2017 survey of nearly 48,000 college students, 64 percent said they had felt “very lonely” in the last 12 months. 

This rings even more true at the tail end of a pandemic, as socialization was at an all time low and feelings of isolation were at an all time high. 

“I think COVID has really thrown a wrench into people’s lives,” Lehigh’s Director of Health Advancement and Prevention Strategies Jenna Papaz said. “I think introverts have become more introverted.” 

Along with the impacts of the pandemic, social media is one of the driving forces of feelings of loneliness among college students for a variety of reasons. 

According to The Foundation for Art and Healing, frequent social media use could displace more personal social experiences and increase social isolation.

Furthermore, a 2017 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine explained that since individuals often post idealized representations of their lives, social media posts elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others have happier and more successful lives.

Especially in college, which is often referred to as “the best four years of one’s life,” students have high expectations based on what they see on Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms. 

“I think their perception of reality is so jaded with (social media),” Papaz said.

While there are barriers to a perfect social life in college, it is important to recognize how impactful the relationships you make during these years are. 

In college, you may find yourself spending as much time with your friends as you did with your family at home. Real friends are positive assets to one’s life in that they are there to provide advice, reassurance, encouragement and a sense of belonging. 

According to a study done by the Journal of Adolescent Research, “The multiple functions that friends fulfill, and their provisions of support and well-being, suggest that having a close friend during stressful experiences would certainly help individuals cope. This may be particularly true during the transition to university.” 

I can attest to the fact that my close friends at school have been there for me through all the ups and downs that come along with the first-year college experience. We have had fun nights and stressful days — together through it all. 

I’m sure students of each grade would agree that having people you can count on is crucial during college and beyond. 

Now, as the school year comes to an end — just like every other student here — I am making the most of these last few weeks with my friends. 

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