Don’t get lost in the freshers’ crowd

The transition to college life can be tough but once you remember everyone’s in the same boat, you’ll be able to make the first move and find your place

I can remember so clearly my first day in Arts in UCD. I was shy, young – just 17 – and innocent. I looked around at the other 500 people in my English lecture and felt utterly overwhelmed and so very alone. I remember thinking that I may never see or speak to the person sitting next to me ever again and that was a reality which only hit home when I was already lost in the crowd; too shy to introduce myself, too cowardly to put myself out there.

The following year was fraught with loneliness and regret, crippled by a lack of confidence and feelings of displacement and alienation. It affected my studies and I lost faith in my abilities. I remember studying Ezra Pound's poem In a Station of the Metro, which seemed to sum up so succinctly the vacuum of loneliness and isolation I felt in those massive lecture theatres: "The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough."

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was not the only one. In fact, the majority of people in that hall had the same fears, anxieties and regrets that I had. You are never alone in college, you are never the only one to feel that way, and realising that is the first step forward.

You’re not alone

Brian Gormley


, manager of campus life at DIT, carried out a survey of incoming first-year students asking them what was their biggest fear: over 50 per cent of them said what they feared most was not making friends. So you are certainly not alone.

“The biggest thing that nobody tells you is that nearly every student feels the same way and we’re all too nervous to approach each other”, says Maeve DeSay, welfare officer at UCD’s students’ union. “The best way to get to know people in college is by chancing your arm. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, lunch; whatever, you name it. Chat to the person beside you in your tutorial, or your lecture, and arrange to meet them after class. It’s not something we generally do with strangers outside of college but it’s the best way to meet people in UCD.”

Anyone who offered advice on the transition to college life for this recommended joining a sports club or society and that advice, although very valuable and worthy, is what you will hear over and over again. Often, this seems to be the only advice you will get, the only peg on which to hang your hopes of friendship. The reality is, there are other options if juggling, trampolining or judo don’t take your fancy. The first, and most important, step in breaking out of your comfort zone is finding the courage to interact, to put yourself out there and to not be afraid of failure.

Get positive

Cindy Dring

, health promotion officer at NUI Galway, points out the importance of appearing confident even if you’re a shaking leaf on the inside.

“When dealing with new situations, most of us don’t feel very confident. When we let a lack of confidence prevent us from participating in things, this can lead to loneliness and feeling down. The good news is we can do something about it. Keep your chin up, stand tall, smile and you will begin to feel happier and more confident. Even if we don’t feel like smiling, if we smile at people in spite of our bad or sad mood, that mood shifts and before we know it we feel a lot better. And if we look confident, we become confident.”

Positive words of encouragement from Dring. So now I’ve steeled myself for a period of false bravado, what’s next?

Gormley points to the importance of attending and participating in orientation during your first week.

“Orientation attendance is key – ours is very interactive, we try to break large classes down into small groups. We send them off with a camera to discover the city and take photos of landmarks. We’ve seen great results from this. Often groups set off with the camera and there is no interaction between them, but when we get the camera back there are photos of them piled up on top of eachother beside the spire.”

Brian also stresses the importance of participation and of making the effort to find your niche.

“It’s all about participation: that might mean going to an organised pilates class, or on a group jog. Activities which the class rep organises are very important: even if it’s just going for a pizza after class, it can be quite effective. Freshers week is important too, even if you don’t drink.”

The DIT chaplaincy runs “friendship lunches”, which Gormley says “mainly attract people because of the free lunch, but can also prove a great way of striking up a friendship.”

Let it not go without mention - sports clubs and societies are fantastic ways of meeting people, but going to your first meeting can be quite a daunting prospect if you are flying solo.

DeSay advises to just “take the dive and go to the meeting. These societies and clubs need as many people as possible to function and they want to make new friends too. You never know, the person you chat to might live near you, maybe you get the same bus or have even joined some of the same societies and sure, it being Ireland, you probably know a few of their cousins.”

All colleges have volunteering initiatives too, which can be a great way of meeting people with the same passions as you. NUI Galway, for example, runs a programme called Alive, “which connects students to volunteering opportunities on campus and in the wider community”, says Dring, and DIT runs a community project to clean up the canal.

Take the opportunity

Taking the opportunity to run as a class rep, or joining the welfare crew or students’ union is also a great way of finding your home in the college. Please remember that the first step is always the hardest – be that going to the first surf-club meeting, putting yourself up there and asking for votes as a class rep or even just introducing yourself to the person sitting next to you in class.

Living in campus accommodation for your first year can also be an excellent way of forging friendships. It is expensive, but if you have to pay rent anyway this is probably one of the best ways to settle into a new city and college.

It’s unlikely you won’t become bosom buddies with one of your housemates, and you’ll be living right in the centre of a community of other people who are just like you.

That said, it can be that much more difficult if you aren't fortunate enough to be able live on campus. When I was in UCD I lived with my aunt for three years and although I wouldn't have been able to do it without her help, it did make it a little harder to fully immerse myself in student life during that first year. It's not impossible though, and you must commit yourself to doing all the same things you would otherwise do: go to class parties, go for tea in a classmate's house and accept any invitation for a house party (in their house that is, not your aunt's . . .).

The most important piece of advice you could take from this is to always ask for help if you feel like you are up the college creek without a paddle – never be alone in your fears or feelings of isolation. Talk to your Mum, your aunt, your friend from home or someone who has done your course before. There are always staff on hand at college to help you, too, if you feel overwhelmed.

Take heed of DeSay’s advice – she’s been there before: “Don’t forget that you are not the only one. Not everyone fits in straight away. Persevere, join a club, talk to the people you feel most comfortable talking to and don’t forget that this is just another step, one that you are taking for the first time and it’s alright to be a little bit scared.”


Leaving my small school in Co Sligo and coming to UCD, a college of 24,000 students, was the start of a new adventure – very exciting but also extremely daunting. The first year was quite overwhelming, it was so easy to go unnoticed in huge lecture theatres and the idea of making friends was scary. The longer I put off stepping out of my comfort zone, the more intimidating the prospect became. It was very easy to feel lost and lonely.

By the end of my second semester I felt very down, I had been outgoing in school yet seemed to have failed to make more than one friend that whole year in college.

When second year rolled round, I decided I was going to make a conscious effort to put myself out there, out of my comfort zone and try to meet new people. I signed up to join the Welfare Crew, a group of students who campaign for equality, mental health and well-being on campus.

The first meeting was terrifying. I had butterflies in the pit of my stomach, but I was met by the most friendly, welcoming group of students I had ever encountered. They made me feel part of their little family and I found my home in UCD. I met some of my best friends there and it gave me the confidence to go out and meet more people.

If you’re feeling down in college, don’t worry and don’t give up. You are not alone. Find your home on campus – look out for groups or societies who are involved in an area you’re passionate about. Take that one step out forward – you won’t regret it. Going to that first Welfare Crew meeting shaped my whole college experience and I am forever grateful to that group of students who made me feel part of something.