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I find the classroom -- whether it be a lecture hall or a smaller class with fewer than 15 people -- to be a difficult environment to build friendships.

I'm an extroverted college-aged male. I have no lack of friends outside the classroom. However, I'm inclined to make friends given the opportunity.

I have always treated going to class to be an extremely formal affair. I never skip class, and I always arrive early to mentally focus myself (this might include reviewing notes) which then results in me not talking to those around me. My classes are mainly STEM-oriented.

Because my class schedule is quite different from others, I usually study on my own. This is purely because it works to my convenience. Thus, I'm not quick to form study groups, or even much inclined to do so.

My question is: how can I build friendships in the classroom without sacrificing my focus and attentiveness to the class?

  • @NVZ -- US/CA, and in all classes. I don't find myself behaving differently dependent on lecture content or class size. I also notice others behaving in the same way I do -- quieter before class, restricting the opportunity to make new acquaintances. – Vegetableegg Jul 30 '17 at 6:56
  • Would you mind adding that info into your question? :) – NVZ Jul 30 '17 at 7:53
  • Make small talk? I made friends when i started uni, by loudly proclaiming we would tunnel to the end of the world while a group of 30 of us were just following random people trying to figure out exactly where we were going... Just doing this caused certain people to react and those are the ones I ended up becoming friendly with (and living with). – djsmiley2k TMW Jul 30 '17 at 9:10
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    Would you be free to tell us what sort of class? Just so we know what sort of people you are talking about (people in a psychology class might appreciate something deep and thought-provoking, for example.) – marcellothearcane Jul 30 '17 at 10:37
  • @marcellothearcane -- Mostly STEM oriented classes. – Vegetableegg Jul 30 '17 at 13:49
8

I went through this over the past year (my freshman year in college). Most of my classes were small (~30 students) in comparison to the average first-year class at most colleges, and they were in a variety of subjects, two in my majors, and two outside my majors. I was already developing separate friend groups, but I still wanted to get to know people in my classes, especially those who will be studying the same subjects as me down the line. The takeaway from my year of friend-seeking was this:

It's easier to find friends who like what you like. Learn it together.

Take, for instance, my introductory physics course first semester (special relativity and some intro quantum mechanics). Two thirds of the class reacted like this:

This is so freaking awesome! It's almost always non-intuitive but it works out and the implications are so cool!

The last third of the class reacted like this:

This is so freaking boring.

I was in the first group, and let me tell you, we loved to talk about the class, the ideas we discussed there, and how it all fit into physics as a whole. I can't count how many discussions spontaneously started later on around a random topic we had briefly mentioned in class. They went places I couldn't have foreseen them going.

#1: Don't study alone.

I do mean this. You're likely studying things that are more intuitive than special relativity. But you're going to run into problems along the way. Some you can solve yourself; some you'll have to go to a professor or a TA to get answers to. But a fellow student, someone who's learning things just the way you are, might understand your difficulties even better.

Obviously, it's going to be less convenient for you to go to study sessions. I had the same problem for one on Thursday night, which required me to have dinner later (9:00!). But I found that each time, someone caught one or two mistakes that I would have otherwise made.

Point is, go to a study session as often as you can. You don't have to do it regularly, but just once in a while.

#2: Get to know your classmates in the study group.

If the class is something in your major, then these classmates might also be your classmates in future classes. You'll need them for help, and they'll need you. Start building working relationships with them, where you understand each others' strengths and weaknesses. College is hell at times; don't go it alone.

#3: Build on this.

If you go to some of these sessions and get to know these people, you're in prime position to start a friendship. I've gotten to know plenty of people for long-term projects, and there are almost always moments along the way - shared experiences, for instance - that lead to bonding. I think there's a good chance you'll find yourself unconsciously transitioning into a friendship regardless of whether you choose to or not.

If you want to make a conscious effort, that's fine! Again, you have some central experiences, which are almost always a basic talking point. You know the people to some degree; that's not insignificant. If you want to hang out socially, do that! It's easy. Start with something like

Hey, after we finish, do you want to go to the dining hall and get some food? I hear there's a specialty salad bar tonight.

You could also use

We've been talking about game theory a bit in class. Has anyone here seen A Beautiful Mind?


I basically used the above method to make some of my earliest friends last autumn. It helped that some of us interacted in other areas (e.g. sports), but I was still able to get to know people socially. Physics is cool (in our opinions), and by learning it together, we created some pretty strong bonds.

  • I'll add that I think ab2's answer to the question is a good one. I just wanted to share a slightly different route I had taken. – HDE 226868 Jul 30 '17 at 15:23
7

Make an intelligent comment about the class after the class to someone who behaves before the class the same way you do. Not just "good class!" but pick out a point that you found particularly interesting (or puzzling) and frame it in a way that will lead to further discussion.

You have nothing to lose by initiating a discussion with someone whose behavior is similar to yours, except perhaps a "wasted" 60 seconds if the person is not inclined to talk. Do the experiment! If it fails, repeat the experiment with another student.

Professional meetings are always set up to allow ample time for "corridor conversations". The conversations you have with professional colleagues at a meeting -- many of whom you have never met before -- are as important as the formal presentations. Think of striking up a conversation after class not only as possibly making a school friend, but as training for your professional life.

2

My strategy for making friends in class without disrupting my education is to:

  1. Sit near the front. You are more likely (based on my experience) to encounter more serious students at the front of the lecture hall.

  2. Use a class-related icebreaker before or after the class such as "hey, do you know when X is due?" or "did you by any chance understand Y that the professor mentioned?" In my opinion it's best to find a question that is quick so they can respond and you can thank them and introduce yourself before class starts or before you need to hurry off to your next class.

  3. If the person seems friendly, continue to sit near them and make light conversation before or after class.

  4. If things go well and you like the person, invite them to study before an exam, or maybe grab lunch or coffee after class.

I've personally started a few friendships this way, some of which last after the term ends and some that don't. Either way, none of the friends I've made in this way have been disruptive in class. For reference, I am an engineering student and so I prefer to stay focused while in class as well.

  • sitting on first row is like being a serious nerd. how about joining the last row crew and then move into getting know of first row people? – Vishwa Jan 23 '18 at 7:43

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