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How to Navigate Loneliness
as a Transfer Student

by Vivian Chung

February 7, 2024

Switching schools after her freshman year was an overwhelming experience for 21-year-old Miranda Flores, who transferred to the University of North Texas (UNT) from Lone Star Community College (LSC) in September.

Flores moved away from her supportive family network in her hometown of The Woodlands and settled in Denton, Texas, about a three-hour drive away, where she didn’t know a soul. Beyond the stress that comes with adapting to a new class structure and workload, Flores worried about her ability to establish a social circle at her new school. “That was one of my fears: I thought about things like ‘what happens if no one truly likes me for who I am?’ and ‘what if I don’t make any friends?'"

The challenge of breaking into well-established friend groups on campus is one of a few factors that make transfer students more vulnerable to the stress and anxiety of social isolation, and can cause struggles with mental health.

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Freshman year can be a critical time to form new connections because everybody’s new and in the same situation post-high school while in their first year on campus. “But for transfer students who are coming in at a time when not everybody is looking for friends, it makes it harder for them because they then really have to go out there and present themselves,” explains Danica Copp, a Virginia-based clinical social worker who specializes in working with college students. “And if you’re already struggling with loneliness and anxiety, the hardest thing is to go put yourself out there.”

But what’s hard isn’t impossible — it’s usually worth the effort.

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Set yourself up before you arrive on campus

Flores arrived with a goal to make new friends. During the three months before her move, she began exchanging messages with other transfer students through the UNT Transfer Students page on Instagram. “It’s always nice to have some people in your friend circle who are also transfer students because it just helps that someone else is feeling those same things,” says Flores. The transfer process can be stressful, so having allies while going through it can help.

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Use the school’s resources — even if they seem trivial

You’re not the first transfer student to feel anxious about meeting new people and to experience transfer shock, which is exactly why so many colleges offer events and resources tailored to incoming transfers. (An ice cream social may sound kind of dorky, but free dessert and potential friends are both great things.)

Copp suggests attending any orientations or other events your school offers to transfer students.

“That’s a really good way to make some connections with other students going through the exact same situation.”

Flores echoes the sentiment, noting that dedicated Facebook groups and orientation programs helped her acclimate to the change and start enjoying the college experience.

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Make yourself visible

Your first semester on campus, expand your social circle by joining clubs that interest you. “I’d recommend connecting with whoever’s in charge [of student life organizations], like the student leaders. They’re going to look out for you because they want to grow their club with new students,” Copp says. Pointing yourself out as a transfer student gives these leaders the opportunity to connect you with others who also share your classes or circumstances.

Even if you’re not making friends at social gatherings or club meetings right away, the more you go, the more people will see you, which increases your odds of connecting, says Copp. Participating in club meetings also keeps you engaged and out of isolation.

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Connect with people
who like the things you like

Markeese King, who moved from Washington, D.C., to attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCAT) in Greensboro, joined the choir to make new connections. “NCAT is the largest [historically black college or university] in the country, with almost 14,000 students. At that point, I didn’t even know where to start.” He naturally made connections by introducing himself and subsequently by being introduced to his new choir mates’ friends.

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Be human

Copp says students shouldn’t overlook the old-school way of making friends: simply saying ‘hi’ and introducing yourself. “That’s how conversations start — by being able to use those skills and recognize that nobody’s going to judge. And actually you may shock people, and you may find that you make more friends because they may also be anxious about starting that class.”

 

In times of stress in a new environment, it’s

tempting to reach for your cellphone as a security blanket and scroll through Tiktok or laugh at memes on Instagram. But remaining open to connections at your new college is important, and introducing yourself to your classmates, club leaders, and resident assistants, especially in the first couple of weeks of class when everybody’s still relatively free from homework obligations, will boost your chances of building a relationship.

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Bring a friend-magnet

OK, so this tip isn’t exactly possible for everyone, but if you’ve got a furry friend to show off, making new friends will be a whole lot easier.

Copp recommends bringing an emotional support animal with you to ease your transition. “I almost think everybody needs an emotional support animal because going away to college is really hard. So bring your cat or bunny with you, if you can.”

Alternatively, lean on classmates who have emotional support animals, or look into volunteering at a nearby shelter so you can take a dog for a walk or snuggle with one. “Being with a living being will make you feel less lonely,” explains Copp.

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Ward off anxiety with tools
you know work

To prevent yourself from losing your days to stress about your new campus life and feelings of isolation, make the effort to leave your dorm room regularly. “Remember, the more that you feed anxiety with an anxious thought, the bigger the anxiety is going to grow,” cautions Copp.

Instead, be productive with the time when you’re worried about feeling lonely, and take action to

soothe those thoughts. Besides knocking on a neighbor’s door and introducing yourself, consider leaving your own door open, which invites others to drop in. Most colleges and public universities also offer free counseling services and mentoring should you feel you need them.

Copp encourages students who feel stressed and lonely to break out of their comfort zone and make those connections. “College is unlike any other experience in your life because it’s like your trial adulthood. Getting involved in college and meeting people means you could be making lifelong friendships.”

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