Introversion and College Socializing

You can be very introverted and still have a rich, rewarding social life in college - it might just look different from that of your extroverted peers.

By Ceanna Hayes Daniels — September 21, 2023

Introversion and College Socializing

If you identify as an introvert or ambivert, you might be heading into freshman year feeling apprehensive about how to balance all the socializing opportunities that college life offers with your need for time alone. Luckily, however, you can be very introverted and still have a rich, rewarding social life in college — it might just look different from that of your extroverted peers.

Figure out Your Type of Introversion.
Knowing what kinds of social interaction drain you and what kinds energize you is essential to taking care of your mental health in college — whether you're an introvert or an extrovert. If you don't know what the differences between various forms of social interaction are, you might assume they all have an identical impact on you and push yourself to enjoy the events your peers do out of obligation, or, on the other end of the spectrum, avoid potentially rewarding interactions out of anxiety. If you know what your type of introversion is, however, you'll be able to select meaningful forms of connection and allocate your social energy effectively.

As nerdy as it may sound, try taking notes on what you liked or disliked about a social activity after you get back to your dorm, then analyze the results to find commonalities. Maybe you get migraines easily and will never enjoy large, loud gatherings, but you love to spend time intentionally connecting with one or two people in a quiet environment. Or, maybe you prefer to meet up infrequently with a larger group of friends for an activity that you all enjoy, like playing board games or practicing a sport together.

Select Social Events for Quality, Not Quantity.
Once you know the type of event you enjoy, you'll be able to select social events for quality instead of judging yourself based on the number of events you attend. After all, which sounds like the more rewarding experience — having a generally quiet week, then one evening attending a lecture on a topic you're curious about and making a new friend by talking to the person seated next to you, or, trying to go to an all-dorm movie night, board game night, baseball game, and lecture within the span of a few days and being too exhausted to appreciate any of them or connect with anyone you meet?

Remember, you are the only person tracking how many events you've been to. No one is watching you and thinking you're weird for not going to a particular event, and in a few years' time you won't even remember the events you skipped to prioritize your mental health. However, if you take care of yourself and select a few high-quality social events to attend in a given week, you might just make good memories, and even a few new friends, at each.

Remember How Much Socializing You're Doing, and Give Yourself Grace.
College life has a wide variety of opportunities for social connection — and, if you're an introvert, you're likely socializing more in a given day than you realize. You might not even realize how much more until you find yourself exhausted from overdoing it. If your college is larger than your high school was, you're encountering more people than you have in the past, more frequently — more classmates as you head to lectures, more people in the dining hall as you eat, more students in the library as you study, and more people in your dorm as you try to relax or sleep. Plus, if you didn't share a room growing up but have a roommate in college, you might not be fully prepared for how rarely you'll actually be alone in college.

If you feel like your battery is drained from daily life and you don't have any social energy left for additional events, this might be why. Instead of feeling badly about it, though, give yourself grace. Even if it wouldn't be draining to an extroverted friend, you are putting time and emotional labor into building a rich and rewarding social life by showing up every day and beginning to build connections on campus, even through things as small as saying "hello" to a classmate or asking your roommate how their day went.

Build Time Alone into Your Schedule Preemptively.
If you're exhausted by the social energy you're expending on an average day, then you need to start preemptively building time alone into your day. Knowing what you personally need to thrive is just as crucial to building friendships as engaging with others is, because nobody can pour from an empty cup. Even if it sounds counterintuitive, building a rewarding social life in college starts out with doing internal work and self-care.

What activities or environments help you to rest and recharge? Set aside a few minutes each day to interact with them and enjoy that time alone. If working out early in the morning while the gym is quiet will help you to feel more like yourself for the rest of the day, then waking up early will be well worth the time you invest into it. Similarly, if putting on some noise-cancelling headphones over lunch and journaling for a few minutes to process the stressors you've encountered will help you to regain your peace and move into the afternoon with confidence, then schedule a bit of extra time for your lunch break to provide yourself with that recovery time. (Pro tip: to increase your ability to drown out overwhelming environments like bustling coffee shops or the campus dining hall, use earplugs inside your over-the-ear, noise-cancelling headphones. You'll be able to listen to white noise, a favorite song, or nothing at all.)

Again, prioritizing this time alone might not seem like it has much to do with socializing, but it's essential to building a social network in college — if you feel like yourself, you'll actually be energized and confident enough to make new friends and spend time with old ones. (Plus, even if it did only impact you, it isn't selfish to take care of your mental health.)

Take Extra Time to Recover on Especially Busy Days.
While preemptively scheduling time alone will help you to handle the stresses of the everyday, you may need to create extra time and space to recover from especially busy days due to the additional demands they make on your time and energy. Rather than being blindsided by your exhaustion after the fact, try structuring an extra recovery period into your schedule on abnormally busy days to prevent yourself from being too drained.
Find People Who Share Your Interests.
While many of the students you'll meet over the course of your time in college will be extroverts, you won't be the only introvert on campus. Finding other introverts or other students who enjoy the same interests that you do is one of the best ways to find enjoyable forms of socializing you can add to your calendar. For example, if you love to knit or crochet, see if there's a extracurricular club that you could join to meet people like you. Similarly, if you're working on a new book idea for NaNoWriMo (the "national novel writing month" challenge), look around for other writers. If you meet other students who plan to participate in the program, you can spend time together working on your own drafts, offer feedback on each others' drafts, and support one another as you try to successfully complete the challenge.
Initiate Predictable Hang-Outs.
If you get easily drained and overwhelmed by social events, but really want to spend time with a friend or group of friends, try initiating a few predictable hang-outs. Invite that cool classmate to grab lunch together after you get out of class, or suggest a movie night with a small group of people that seem interesting to you. Hang-outs like these are predictable and nonthreatening for most introverts, and, because they have a clear end point, you have a built-in escape plan if things get awkward or stressful. Plus, being the one to initiate an event can help to boost your confidence, empowering you to try a bigger group or different event in the future.
For Big Events, Have an Exit Strategy and Use the Buddy System.
If there's a big event coming up that you don't want to miss but are worried will be overwhelmingly loud and "peopley" — like the first football game of freshman year, the spring formal, or any number of others — then you might benefit from having an exit strategy and using the buddy system. Ask a friend or two if you can go together and leave early, so that you have someone familiar nearby who will help you to feel grounded and have a manageable timeline in mind for the event. After you leave, do something less draining, like baking cookies, watching a movie, or going for a walk. This is a great way to make an appearance at a major college social event, make a memory that's meaningful to you, and still protect your sanity. Plus, it gives you an opportunity to spend quality time with one or two friends who might not otherwise have been free at the same time!
Ceanna Hayes Daniels

Ceanna Hayes Daniels

Ceanna Hayes Daniels is freelance writer and editor. In 2022, she graduated Hillsdale College summa cum laude with a degree in politics. In her free time, she continues to enjoy studying philosophy, political theory, and literature. She and her husband live in Michigan, where the two enjoy perusing bookstores together for new books and old records.
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