4 Things You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Do Alone in College

Finding friends in college is important, but finding time to be alone is essential.

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Finding friends in college is important, but finding time to be alone is essential.

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I was very lucky in my first year of college—my two roommates became two of my closest friends. This meant that we frequently hung out in our room, went out together and joined many of the same clubs. My roommate situation worked out fantastically well, but this friendship also meant that I didn’t get a lot of alone time, something that, I would come to realize, I needed.

Over the past two years of college, I have come to accept and even enjoy the necessity and opportunity of solitude. Here are four things you should consider doing alone; maybe, like me, you will come to cherish spending time with just yourself.

1. Stay In

FOMO (fear of missing out) has become a common term in the millennial lexicon, and for good reason. Many people feel this fear of missing out, college students more than most. These are supposed to be the best four years of your life, so students often feel afraid of missing out on anything; some people feel they have to go to every party and every event, and anything skipped is a missed opportunity. But, of course, this isn’t true. Sometimes missing out is the best thing you can do.

During my first year of college I tried to go to every party my friends went to, tried to socialize as much as I could and never missed a single club meeting. By the time my second semester rolled around, I was exhausted and no longer enjoying any of the activities I forced myself to do. So, I gave myself permission to miss out on things. Occasionally, my friends and roommates would go out and I would choose to stay in by myself, catching up on readings and essays and sometimes simply relaxing.

This time alone allowed me to recharge and helped me keep up with my schoolwork. I tend to stress out over tests and grades, so by making a concerted effort to keep up and even get ahead in my classes, I alleviated this pressure on myself. By skipping some social events and club meetings, I could better enjoy the ones I did go to.

2. Go Out

Of course, sometimes events would arise that I wanted to go to, but my friends had no interest in. For most of freshman year, when this happened I simply would not go—in sophomore year, however, I ventured out a little bit more. I joined clubs in which I knew no members, I went to events alone and I became better at making friends (or at least acquaintances) with strangers. Through this habit, I not only learned how to be more outgoing, which is something I’ve never been very good at, but also had many fun and interesting experiences that I would have missed out on if I’d decided to stay behind with my friends.

Image via Elon University

Going out doesn’t just mean going to school events or to parties, though. To be clear, I am not advocating going to parties (or bars, or clubs) alone; that can be dangerous, and it’s always better to travel in groups when alcohol is involved. “Going out,” for me, also means going to museums and concerts and plays. I go to school in New York, so there are hundreds of possible things to do on any given day, but often my friends are unable to go with me.

So, when that happens, I go alone. I have gone alone to concerts at the New York Philharmonic, to the Met, to the MoMA, to the movies and countless other places. Timing doesn’t always work out, and often it’s just not possible for friends to accompany you on trips like this, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Some of my fondest memories of living in the city have come from times I’ve walked to museums by myself and spent hours wandering around, completely free to move at my own pace and see only what I want to see.

3. Group Projects

College is not like high school; that much is evident. At my large public high school, assignments were one size fits all; the teachers simply didn’t have time to negotiate with students over what could and could not earn you credit for an assignment. Now I go to a private university that’s smaller than my high school, and I’ve found that professors are often open to reworking assignments on a case-by-case basis.

I generally like group projects, but only when I know the people in my group and am confident that they will do their fair share. High school scarred me, in that I was always the one person who ended up staying awake all night to finish everyone else’s parts of the project (I’m getting annoyed at the memories while I write this).

So, in my first year of college, when asked to form a group with people I neither knew nor trusted, I was apprehensive. Then, at the end of the class, my teacher casually threw out the option that, if we didn’t have time to meet or just preferred to work alone, we could talk to him about reworking the project into an individual endeavor. Feeling cautiously hopeful about this, I went to his office hours, worked out something I could do alone and ended up getting an A.

Having learned from this experience, I’ve been able to talk to several other professors about turning group projects into individual assignments. Not everyone is amenable to this, of course, but often they are willing to work with you. Group projects can be fun and instructive, but if you feel you’d do better or learn more on your own, consider speaking with your professor and working something out.

4. Work

In the roughly three-and-a-half years since I started working at the age of sixteen, I’ve had four different jobs, all in the food service industry. Of those four, my favorite was when I worked as a coat-checker for a few months at a French restaurant called La Boite en Bois (an experience tragically cut short when I broke my ankle).

Coat-checking is a perfect gig for a college student: plenty of tips, free dinner, a flexible schedule and the ability to do your homework while the customers are dining. As a coat-checker I would spend hours mostly alone, doing readings and working on essays at a small table, interrupted only occasionally to check the customers’ coats and welcome them to the restaurant.

Most people who work in the food service industry don’t go looking for this kind of solitary experience, but, in my opinion, they should consider it. Working doesn’t have to be a social activity; as someone who lived in an apartment with five other girls, I relished the (relatively) quiet time to concentrate on my homework and get paid for short, polite interactions with the opera-going customers at the restaurant.

It was because I didn’t mind working alone—and impulsively trying something I’d never considered before—that I was lucky enough to spend four months at the best job a college student could ask for. In the same way, it is only because I have been able to spend time by myself that I’ve so enjoyed the social life college has afforded me.

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