Little fish in a big pond: Making strong connections on big campuses

Listen up folks, if this is your first year on a big campus you're probably going through the motions of overwhelming possibilities that start with the butterflies and result in a spiraling headache. Starting anew is both exciting and frightening. Where does one begin to fathom the many opportunities to be had and connections to be made? Unlike high school, finding your niche on campus can be as infinite as the number line. Say goodbye to stereotypical social groups and hello to open-ended variety much like the real world! While there's no textbook approach to building strong connections, here's a bit of advice to help with navigating through a sea of at times, fifty-five thousand fish.

An image Img source

Woah... that's a lot of fish.

Everything starts with a game plan

Major moves are made with goals in mind. Prompt yourself with questions that'll help to guide your decisions, assess priorities, and overall clarify your intentions. Yes, plans change and goals fluctuate with circumstance but a well-thought-out and tangible blueprint make it easier.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I looking to accomplish daily, bi-weekly, monthly, and quarterly?
  • What are my interest and strengths? How can I use them to benefit myself and others on campus?
  • What are my qualms and weaknesses? Where can I go to solve and strengthen them on campus?
  • What resources are at my exposure and where on campus do I go to find out more?

Building connections is a marathon, not a sprint

Your first week on campus has commenced and you're itching to make new friends, join an org, and paint the yard with your full name in school colors. If you've found it easier to make friends in high school, you're probably wondering one of two things: Where are the humans like yourself and why isn't everyone picking up on your eagerness to connect? Here's a wakeup call, on campuses where the student-to-teacher ratios between ten or more to one, the chances of taking your school by storm early on are slim-to-none (unless you're the number one draft pick for your schools D1 football team). It's important to understand that connections are not made overnight and it never matters how many people you semi-meet, but WHO! Ditch the popularity contest strategy and take an approach of quality assurance— You'd rather make five strong connections than a hundred acquaintances in 24-hours, who forget your name the next day. Professors, TA's, RA's, deans, club presidents, project partners, and dorm mates are a great starting point.

Get involved and stay involved

Once you've established a foundation, it's time to act on your social and professional impulses! Events, workshops, committees, oh my! Join them. Start them! This is where your strengths and interest truly shine. You'll be surprised by how many people recognize your efforts and involvement, as a stepping stone towards connecting for future endeavors on and off campus. Most importantly, remember to maintain momentum. Once or twice is for the weary, consistency will be your willful distinction.

Organic connections for the win!

Sure, you want to create a long lasting impression, but at what cost? There's nothing like awkward small talk and a pushy demeanor to ruin a well-intended connection, no one likes an opportunist. Allow interactions to happen organically. It's okay to just BE in the room at times, enjoying the atmosphere, ask questions, and learning something new along the way.

True story: While tackling two internships last year, I worked part-time at a music venue. There was this older guy that I'd see with a media pass and a camera every time I worked a show, and for some reason, I couldn't understand why he came so often (photographers typically fluctuate with talent). One day, he's covering a show and I ask him, "Are you like a photographer or something?" (Clearly that day he was, but I wanted details). To which he replied, "Sometimes... Have you ever heard of Tiny Desk?", to which I replied with a simple “yes” . He turned out to be the creator of npr's Tiny Desk. The CREATOR! As a music enthusiast and aspiring music influencer, I was speechless. That one casual encounter created room for networking and allowed me the opportunity to attend a Tiny Desk taping.

Trust me, some of your strongest connections will be with people you casually meet along the way!

Always say thank you :)

There are going to be times when you need a favor; an extension for a project, extra credit to boost your grade, volunteers to help your fundraising event run smoothly, or a simple recommendation. Through it all, there will be people there to help, who see your promise, trust your leadership, and believe in your vision. It's important to express your gratitude every-single-time. Not only is it common courtesy but it creates room for long-term assistance. Appreciation and consideration go a long way!

Advertise your side hustle

Who said college was for future scientist and politicians alone? There are a lot of students who excel in their major courses and kick ass as MUA's, hair-stylist, barbers, lash techs, videographers, photographers, DJ's, seamstresses, chefs and much more in their spare time. If this sounds like you, take advantage of your talent and market your services! It's not only a financial benefit but a great way to generate strong connections on and off campus. Your next client could very well be your business partner in the near future, not to mention the powers of word-of-mouth marketing!

Be prepared for pushback

Building strong connections take balls! Trial and error is a guarantee. But, no matter how large your campus is, understand that there is not one single person like yourself. Use that to your benefit! Everyone will not like you, some people will be less inclined to chat for ten seconds, let alone support your efforts. Do not fret. Remain authentic and eager to rise to the next occasion, for there will be many. Focus on the goal at hand and seize the moments in front of you. When you feel bombarded or overwhelmed, always regroup. Use the tools you have as a starting point and build from there.

Don’t worry, you’ve got this!

Alexa play NICE by The Carters

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Want to hear more from Dey?

Dey Stegall is a noted creative machine and writer covering everything from what to listen to, to what to do. When she’s not writing, she’s crashing concerts, developing content, and living her best life! Find her on Twitter or Instagram.

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