6 common challenges for new college students with social skills issues

ByKate Kelly

Adjusting to college life can be tricky for students who have trouble with social skills. Everything’s new, and there’s less structure in college. This can leave new students feeling lonely or lost. We asked Marcus Soutra, president of Understood founding partner Eye to Eye, about some of the most common challenges and how to help. Here are his tips.

1. Asking for services and accommodations

Students may be eligible for supports like free tutoring or extended time on tests. But some students may be reluctant to ask.

How to help: Students should visit the college’s disability services office as soon as possible. There are no IEPs or 504 plans in college. But the office will have a dedicated contact person who can help students get the services and accommodations they’re entitled to. Plus, they’ll have access to professionals at the office who understand their challenges.

2. Finding someone to sit with at meals

Finding a place to sit in a sea of unfamiliar faces can be awkward. And for young adults who struggle with social skills or who have social anxiety, this can be extra stressful.

How to help: Plan ahead. A student who has class right before lunch might plan to go straight to the cafeteria with a classmate. Students on the same floor in the dorm also often go to meals together. And they can always look for someone else sitting alone. A casual “Mind if I join you?” can be welcome relief for another solo diner.

3. Making close friends

Young adults who have trouble with social skills often have a hard time making the first moves that lead to friendship. This can be especially scary in college. Students may not know anyone and may not know where to find people they can relate to.

How to help: Joining a club or playing an intramural sport can be a low-pressure way to meet people. Students can show up without the stress of making plans or doing a lot of talking. And regularly seeing the same people who have shared interests can pave the way for deeper connections. But it’s important to be patient — it takes time to develop even one or two close friends.

4. Talking to a professor

Getting to know a professor can make it easier for students to ask for help. But starting a conversation can be intimidating.

How to help: Students can try talking to the professor during office hours rather than after class. This is less likely to make students feel rushed, and they won’t have to compete with other students. If it makes the in-person conversation easier, students can also email the professor ahead of time and share a few details about themselves.

5. Creating a broad social network

Part of feeling comfortable is being able to say hello to familiar people. But in college, there’s less routine than there was in high school. There’s also a new, larger group of unknown people.

How to help: Students can create routines so they’re in the same place at predictable times throughout the week. For instance, a student could study in the library between classes each day. Or another student might shoot hoops in the gym before dinner. Gradually, they’ll get to know other people who are following similar schedules.

6. Having no weekend social plans

Big parties aren’t every student’s scene, but it seems everyone else is going. Or sometimes a student might want to join a social event, but hasn’t been invited.

How to help: Brainstorm potential weekend activities. Students can look in the school paper or read fliers posted around campus. The dorm’s resident assistant (RA) may have ideas, too. Students who have joined a club or a campus group will often hear about upcoming events. Be cautious about coming home from college too often on weekends. Students are more likely to develop a social life if they stay on campus.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.