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6 Common Challenges for New College Students With Social Skills Issues

By Kate Kelly

Adjusting to college life can be tricky for kids with social skills issues. 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

Your child may be eligible for supports like free tutoring or extended time on tests. But students with social skills issues may be reluctant to ask.

How to help: Have your child stop by 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 him get the services and accommodations he’s entitled to. Plus, he’ll have access to professionals at the office who understand his issues.

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, this can be extra stressful.

How to help: Encourage your child to plan ahead. If he has class right before lunch, suggest he go straight to the cafeteria with a classmate. Kids on the same floor in the dorm also often go to meals together. Remind your child to look out for this group dynamic. And he can always look for someone else sitting alone. A casual “Mind if I join you?” can be welcome relief for a solo diner.

3. Making Close Friends

Kids with social skills issues often have a hard time making the first moves that lead to friendship. This can be especially scary in college. He may not know anyone and may not know where to find people he can relate to.

How to help: Joining a club or playing an intramural sport can be a low-pressure way to meet people. Your child 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 remind him 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 your child to ask for help when he needs it. But starting a conversation can be intimidating.

How to help: Suggest that your child talk to the professor during office hours rather than after class. Your child is less likely to feel rushed and won’t have to compete with other students. If it makes the in-person conversation easier, your child can also email the professor ahead of time and share a few details about himself.

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: Suggest that your child create routines so he’s in the same place at predictable times throughout the week. For instance, he could study in the library between classes each day. Or shoot hoops in the gym before dinner. Gradually, he’ll get to know other people who are following similar schedules.

6. Having No Weekend Social Plans

Maybe big parties aren’t your child’s scene, but it seems everyone else is going. Or he might want to join a social event, but isn’t invited.

How to help: Brainstorm potential weekend activities with your child. Talk about how he can find one he enjoys. He can look in the school paper or read fliers posted around campus. His dorm’s resident assistant (RA) may have ideas, too. If he’s joined a club or campus group, there are often upcoming events. Be cautious about letting him come home too often on weekends. He’s more likely to develop a social life if he’s on campus.

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