Being away from home and far from support can make the college experience a lonely one.
College is an exciting experience. You’re finally on your own and can make your own decisions.
But college can also be lonely. People often go into the experience thinking that it’ll be nothing but fun, but it’s typically harder than that.
Going to college is a big adjustment and comes with many unexpected changes. This can leave you feeling a little homesick, which can manifest as feelings of sadness, isolation, and disconnection from others.
Attending a college or university in a place other than your hometown often means you may not know anyone else there. You can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely in college.
But try not to stress too much. There are ways you can ease the loneliness.
You might feel lonely in college for several reasons, and identifying the cause can help form a plan.
Not having your support system nearby
Not having friends and family nearby can be one of the primary reasons for feeling lonely in college.
If you’re used to having your loved ones close, going away to college can be a big adjustment.
Watching everyone else start romantic relationships
You’ll feel lonely watching your new friends interact in an intimate way, especially if you haven’t found a partner yourself.
This situation becomes more common later in the school year when people have had a chance to get to know one another.
New routine and educational path
The unfamiliarity of a new routine can also trigger feelings of loneliness. Sometimes you’ll question your educational path, furthering the negativity.
When this happens, it seems that the future is uncertain, and you’ll crave comfort from others.
Feeling like no one cares
You may begin to feel lonely because it seems like no one cares about you or your well-being. Your friends, dormmates, and professors may not seem interested in what you’re doing or how you’re feeling.
But they likely do care — they just may show it in a different way.
Anxiety and depression
If you get anxious or depressed at college, it can impact your ability to meet others. Both conditions can make it less likely for you to seek new friendships and connections.
Additionally, it can further isolate you, increasing your feelings of loneliness.
Learning to balance daily activities
You might feel lonely as you learn to handle your daily domestic activities. When you lived at home, your parents or guardians likely helped you with these things.
Now, you’re responsible for taking care of yourself, cooking, cleaning, and balancing your education and social life.
College can be competitive, and it often leaves you comparing yourself to others. You might feel out of place, looking for where you can fit in.
If you’re feeling lonely in college, you’re not alone. There are many — maybe those sitting right beside you in class or even your dormmate — who may feel this way.
- Emotional loneliness: caused by a lack of close and intimate relationships
- Social loneliness: due to a lack of social relationships with friends or peers
In this study, students reported feeling emotional loneliness (7.7%) more than social loneliness (3.2%). The researchers identified several factors that contributed to the students’ loneliness, including:
- immigration status
- family status (e.g., single, married, or in a relationship)
- residence (e.g., living alone, sharing a dorm room)
- physical activity
- alcohol consumption
A 2020 study surveyed more than 50,000 students ages 18 to 35 years old in Norway. The youngest and oldest students reported the highest level of loneliness. The three main factors that played a role in loneliness included being female, single, and living alone.
Additionally, students saw an increase in loneliness from 2014 (16.5%) to 2018 (23.6%). This was especially true for male students.
While these studies found that loneliness in college isn’t uncommon, more research is needed.
Feeling lonely in college can happen anytime, but it’s more likely during specific times. Every student will experience loneliness in different ways and for various lengths of time.
While some may only experience loneliness during the holidays, others may feel it more strongly at the beginning or end of a semester.
During times of tradition
Living at home comes with expected traditions around important dates such as your birthday and holidays. When you go away to college, you can’t always partake in those traditions because of classes or exams.
Halfway through the first semester
Many college students experience loneliness about halfway through their first semester. All the excitement leading up to and at the beginning of college makes you forget about the major transition you just went through.
Once you’ve settled in, about halfway through the first semester, the feelings may slowly begin to creep in.
During the initial transition
The first week or two of college can be defeating, leaving students feeling lonely.
You may begin to realize that you won’t see your loved ones and high school friends as often, and the feelings hit. As you adjust to your new life, the negativity may begin to subside.
When they see other people connect
It can hurt to see others connect if you haven’t found a close group of friends yet. You might think connection comes so easy for others but not you.
When you have to deal with challenges and obstacles alone, you might experience loneliness.
Your family and friends were always there to help you, but you’re on your own now. This can leave you feeling overwhelmed and yearning for connection.
If you’re experiencing loneliness in college, try to remember that you’re not alone and there are others who may feel the same way. Here are some strategies you can try to help ease these feelings.
Recognize and acknowledge your feelings
Recognizing what you’re feeling is a good first step. When you acknowledge your feelings, it can help validate them and give you guidance for moving forward.
Once you admit that you’re lonely, you can begin to think about why you’re feeling this way and how you can manage it.
Adjust your mindset
If your loneliness makes you feel like you’re not yourself anymore, consider a mindset change.
Negative thoughts can distort your perspective and make your situation seem worse than it is. Shifting your mindset can help move your thoughts away from the negative to improve the situation.
You might think you’re lonely because you don’t have anyone to talk with or spend time around. This thought process may lead you to other negative thoughts such as maybe others don’t want to spend time with you.
This might cause you to stay in your dorm room and not socialize with others, allowing more negative thoughts and self-doubt to creep in.
Reframing your thoughts can help you realize that you’re not alone and other students may feel the same way. And this may lead to new opportunities to socialize and meet people like you.
Meet new people
Meeting new people and making friends can help you feel less lonely. Learning to juggle a busy schedule of classes, studying, and work can make it hard to meet new people.
Try to switch things up and strike up a conversation with people near you — such as your dorm roommate or your lab partner.
If you don’t know what to say, ask about an upcoming assignment or how they like the course. Simple conversations like this can help you get to know people and find friends that have things in common with you.
Even chatting only a few minutes a day can ease feelings of loneliness and help you develop friendships. Consider asking them out for coffee after class or to start a study group.
This can be a low-key way to get to know someone better and gain new relationships.
Join clubs, groups, or extracurricular activities
Getting involved on campus can help relieve feelings of loneliness. It will keep you busy and allow you to have fun and meet new people.
College is the ideal time to learn about yourself and the things you enjoy. You can explore new hobbies and activities to see where your passions lie.
Joining a sorority or fraternity is also a great way to find new connections and support while building long lasting friendships.
Finding activities you enjoy outside of academics allows you to connect with people who have the same interests as you. Additionally, you’ll have less downtime to think about all the people you miss back home.
Call someone you feel comfortable with
In-person communication is ideal, but you can alleviate loneliness by staying connected with your loved ones. If your feelings become overwhelming, consider calling someone you love who will help cheer you up.
Hearing their voice can help you feel less alone and allow you to share a more intimate connection.
Connect with yourself
While you need to interact with others, you can ease feelings of loneliness by connecting with yourself. You can connect with the world around you by learning to reflect and reconnect with yourself.
There’s a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. As you reconnect with yourself, you’ll feel your loneliness lessen. It also helps prevent you from being untrue to yourself when trying to fit in with others.
You can start by minimizing your time on social media to focus on what’s happening around you. It helps you become more mindful as you tune into your surroundings and emotions.
Get professional help
If the loneliness doesn’t seem to get better after trying these ideas or it’s beginning to interfere with your daily life, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional.
Many colleges or universities have mental health services on campus or ways you can find help off-campus. You can talk with the administration or health services on your college campus to find out if they offer these types of services and how you can access them.
Prolonged loneliness can lead to depression and other mental health concerns, according to a 2020 review. Talking with a mental health professional can help you find positive ways to move forward.
Feeling lonely in college happens to many students. You’re not alone, and acknowledging this can help you overcome these feelings.
Joining an extracurricular group, inviting a classmate to coffee, or starting a study group is just some ideas to help you connect with others and develop new friendships.
If you’re unsure whether the feelings you’re experiencing are loneliness, you can take our loneliness quiz to find out.