From frat parties to orientation programs to participation points, college seems like a place built for extroverts. As a shy student, it can be an intimidating scene. In my (too frequent) web searches for guidance on navigating the social pressures of college as a quiet underclassman, I often received instructions on how to mold my personality to the college experience, not how to find my place within it. But there is no shame in being an introvert. During my time in college so far, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks that have helped me find a place for my quiet self in this party-loving Big Ten school.
- Remember orientation week is what you make it out to be
If you are a current NU student, this won’t help you much now. But for all you incoming freshmen, take advantage of orientation week. This doesn’t mean you must mingle from dawn until dark and deprive yourself of the alone time necessary to recharge, though that is how many people will describe orientation. Sure, there will be plenty of activities you’ll be required to do, including several dreaded ice breakers, but you’ll also have time you can fill however you’d like. Personally, I spent a lot of that free time alone with a book on the Lakefill, finding like-minded people taking in the sunshine and solitude as well. I also got to know some of my best friends by simply bringing an Uno deck to my dorm’s lounge one day, spurring perhaps the longest card game I’ve ever played and conversations we still laugh about today. Moral of the story? Find time during orientation week to do what makes you happy, whether that may be spending time at the library, joining an exercise group, or playing board games. In the age of COVID, this might look a little different, perhaps involving a virtual program where you can connect with other people through an online game or an art tutorial. Worst comes to worst, you can always hit that big red leave button if you aren’t feeling it. It never hurts to give it a try, and you are sure to find like-minded people doing the same.
2. Talk early in class
Fulfilling that participation requirement is daunting, I know. As someone who gets nervous at the mere thought of raising my hand, getting myself to participate in class has been the most challenging aspect of college so far. I’ve come prepared with discussion questions and analyses, but I still freeze when it comes time to voice these carefully rehearsed points. Here’s my tip: force yourself to participate at the start of the course. Too often, I would keep quiet the first couple weeks of class, telling myself that I would open up as I became more comfortable later. However, after failing to participate in those first weeks, I would feel as though I had trapped myself into a reputation of silence, and speaking up would catch everyone by surprise. I’m aware that this is ridiculous — no one keeps track of who’s participating when. Still, speaking up early can prevent this worry — however irrational it may be — from forming and inevitably compounding over time.
3. Talk with professors about any worries over class participation
I know the last thing we want to do is confess our vulnerabilities to our professors, but if you’re worried about a low participation grade or are looking for advice, I’d highly recommend going to office hours or sending your professor an email. Taking the initiative to inform your professor about any participation-related concerns shows that you truly care about your performance and are not simply daydreaming as you sit silently in class. I’ve met with plenty of professors and TAs, and every one of them has been understanding and willing to talk through potential solutions. Reaching out to a therapist or utilizing the self help resources provided by CAPS may also be helpful if you find yourself extremely anxious in classroom situations.
4. Join a small club
Emphasis on the word small. Big clubs can be great, but us quieter people can get lost in the crowd. We sit back, sign our name on the attendance sheet and let others do the brainstorming. A smaller organization, while perhaps more intimidating as you may feel front and center, will acknowledge and appreciate your presence. Your voice and your ideas are not only welcomed but needed. You’ll have to take on more responsibility, but your involvement will provide you with lasting bonds and a true sense of community.
5. If possible, avoid classes where you have to give presentations
Trust me, it’s just not worth the stress.
6. Understand and respect your limits
This is SO important. Shy students are constantly urged to break out of their shell and push their own boundaries; the pressure to be as social as possible can feel overwhelming. While we all want to improve ourselves and be the happiest that we can, sometimes the best thing we can do is to listen to that inner voice and stay within our comfortable boundaries. Take the time to decompress and prioritize your mental health, and don’t feel guilty about doing it. While extroverts receive their energy through socialization, introverts fill their tanks through solo activities. Embrace that ability to find motivation and joy within yourself and stop feeling bad about staying true to your nature.