Over 50,000 UT students stream by in droves on the walks between classes, make the line for a spicy Chick-fil-A sandwich in the SAC feel perennially long, and make lecture halls look like packed stadium stands. So why do I feel so alone?
This is a question college freshmen at UT, and all over the country, ask each year, when transitions to their new environment are more turbulent than expected. Fostering meaningful friendships often takes longer than students hope, and ebullient promises from well-wishing family that “college is the best four years of your life” set expectations so high that it is easy for freshmen to feel they have fallen short.
Worse still, the pit-of-the-throat feelings of loneliness are multiplied when a student believes that they are the only one feeling alone. But freshmen must know that they are not as isolated as they feel.
A 2016 study from UCLA, which questioned 18,529 new students at 54 different universities across the nation, found that the majority of students struggled emotionally their first year of school. Over 70 percent indicated that they felt occasionally or frequently lonely and over 56 percent indicated that they felt isolated from their campus life at times. This study indicates the exact opposite of what some new college students feel: Those who never feel lonely are in the minority, while those who struggle with feelings of isolation, in fact, compose the majority of the class.
Perhaps freshmen have such inverted views about how easily peers are adjusting because they only see the white-toothed, idealized versions of their friends on social media. For some, eyeing floods of smiling group pictures online while eating a grilled cheese solo is not always a good feeling.
“With social media we now have this FOMO,” Katy Redd, Associate Director of Prevention and Outreach of the Counseling and Mental Health Center, said. “Before social media we might have heard that people had a party, but now you can see what they’re doing and how much fun they are having in real time.”
Social media sometimes makes people forget that everyone eats grilled cheese alone. They just don’t post pictures of it.
McKenna Gessner, Plan II and women’s and gender studies junior and CMHC peer educator, said that students often struggle their first year. “Being on the UT campus, which is very large and intimidating, can be overwhelming.” McKenna recommends students “talk to people,” about feelings of loneliness—perhaps to a First-Year Interested Group group or an Residential Advisor—and she urges freshmen to take advantage of CMHC resources.
Redd particularly praises CMHC’s group counseling as a very effective way to make meaningful social connections with people. With over 40 different groups available and a free and unlimited number of group sessions available for any student, there is no reason why students feeling alone should not take advantage of talking to those with similar thoughts.
Feeling lonely does not make anyone atypical or anomalous. Loneliness is something the large majority of students suffer through in times of transition. Armed with the knowledge that people everywhere deal with these painful feelings, new students will hopefully be better able to weather the temporary times of solitude that accompany growing up and making a home in a new space.
Doan is a Plan II and English junior from Fort Worth.