The summer before my freshman year at the University of Southern California, I was anxious about a lot of things. Would I be able to schlep all of my clothes from Rochester, NY to Los Angeles? Would I get along with my roommate? And most importantly: Would I make any friends?
Because I was going to school on the other side of the country, I knew very few people at USC. While this certainly added to my anxiety, it was also liberating in a way. Not knowing people at USC meant I had no reputation to live up to, no mold to confine myself in. I could have a fresh start and be anyone I wanted.
In high school, I was pretty outgoing. I did a bunch of clubs, including Model UN, Mock Trial, and the school paper, and performed in the plays and musicals. I also ended up being somewhat (read: extremely) neurotic about the college application process my senior year. I’d talk about it constantly, much to my friends’ chagrin. But overall, I enjoyed having a diverse group of friends and keeping busy with all the activities I did.
When I arrived to USC in late August, I was nervous about how others would perceive me. I didn’t want to be regarded as that crazy college guy, one of those musical theater kids, or a nerd. I had this idea in my head that others’ first impression of me would stick throughout all of college. Consequently, I tried to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. For example, some people on my floor talked about having “crazy ragers” all the time in high school. I sat there, smiled, and nodded my head, hoping they’d accept me. I wanted to come off as someone who was really into partying. Someone chill and popular (in the Mean Girls sense of the word). I did certain things and talked a certain way to adopt this persona. I pretended to be apathetic about grades and school and super into “hook up culture.”
I even tried to rush a frat! Why? Because everyone else on my floor was doing it. The thing is, I am not the type of person to join a frat. At all. In fact, I came into college telling myself I would never rush. However, I overrode my own instincts just to fit in, just to feel “cool.” Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Greek life; it just wasn’t something I could see myself in.
After rushing, I knew this tiring attempt to be someone else had to stop. I was not the macho, fratty guy I tried to portray myself as. I was, and still am, a little crazy about college, one of those musical theater kids, and a nerd. The thing about college is, if you have an interest in something, chances are you’ll be able to find someone else with the same interest. This is how I ended up making my long lasting college friendships.
While the friends I made during my early stages of college were all nice, friendly people, we lost touch as the months went on. The reason being was that they were friends with the person I tried to be, not who I really was. I ended up making the friends, of whom I still talk to, in my classes and my clubs. For example, I met some of my best friends in Model UN. We all are slightly neurotic about our grades, love public speaking, and feel comfortable being ourselves around each other.
Interestingly enough, as I came to this self-realization about being true to myself, it seemed like others had as well. For example, a person on my floor, who we’ll call Robert, first came off as pompous and spoiled. However, as the months went on, he became much more down to earth. Others, who I had first begged at the stereotypical jock, sorority girl, or pre-med student, became less archetypal and more interesting as well.
The takeaway from this is that there’s no point in being someone who you are not. While being fake may score you a few friends in the short term, you’re not going to form long lasting friendships with someone who doesn’t like the real you. And don’t be too stressed about first impressions! While they are important, they do not create a permanent image of you.
To make friends (and keep them!) in college, do more than accept who you are—embrace it.