Making- and keeping- friends after college

Why college was the perfect place to meet your BFF

As a counselor for young women, I often hear about the struggles of making friends after college. Recent college grads land their first jobs or move to new cities with the idea that making friends will be just the same as it was in college. When that ends up not being the case, many young women feel frustrated, lonely, and begin to doubt themselves.

The traditional undergraduate experience is a great breeding ground for making friends. Research shows there are a few crucial aspects to close friendships: proximity, repeated, and unplanned interactions. Think about the experience of living in a freshman dorm. At the beginning of the year, everyone is a stranger. Most people are eager to make new friends on campus- and the conditions are perfect for that. Whether you're walking to class with your roommate, going to events and parties together, or hanging out in each other's dorms, you're spending a lot of time in close proximity with these people. Repeat this for a few years in college and many strong friendships are bound to be made!

The importance of keeping your college friends

Your college friends were there for you during a special time in your life. You were witnesses to each other's milestones. You were there for each other during midterms, finals, semesters abroad, break-ups, parties, and making decisions about your futures. Nothing can truly replace that.

There are good reasons your college friends are here to stay. They knew you before you had a job title, before you got married, before you started thinking about things like your 401(k) and paying off student loans. But instead of keeping those friendships rooted in the past, consider doing things together to keep your relationships fresh. If your college friends are actually local, do things together that aren't exactly what you did in college. Sign up for a wine and painting class. Go to Saturday morning yoga followed by brunch. Try learning a new language together. Start a book club- maybe over Google Hangout if your friendships are long distance. Switching it up helps bring your old friendships into your new stage of life.

It's important to be intentional about your friendships. After graduation, friends scatter across the country (maybe even the world)- so much for that proximity! The distance alone makes it hard for those repeated encounters to happen- you're feeling lucky if you get to see your college girlfriends every couple of months. And if you're really spread out, there's little to no chance of unplanned interactions. In fact, it takes quite a bit of coordination to get everyone together in the first place!

How to make friends after college

Maybe you've decided it would be great to make some new friends. But between working 40-5o hours each week at your new job, having downtime for yourself, and balancing family functions, you're finding it more challenging than ever to make friends. Chatting with your coworkers is fine, but meeting new people organically just isn't happening like it used to. Perhaps it's time to step out of your comfort zone. Here are a few quick ideas on meeting friends after college:

  • Strike up a conversation with someone after yoga class. It doesn't need to be anything groundbreaking, maybe even just commenting on how relaxing that flow was, or how much you like the instructor. Could this be your friendship meet cute?!
  • Get involved in something you care about- whether it's serving at your church or volunteering with a nonprofit you're passionate about, you're bound to meet like-minded people! Meeting people who care about the same things you care about is key when making new friends. Plus, it feels pretty good to give back to your community. 
  • If your coworkers are organizing happy hour, go along! Whether or not you drink, spending time outside of the office with your new coworkers can be a great way to take your work friendships to the next level. 

If you can prioritize making and keeping strong friendships now, that will set the stage for life-long relationships that are enjoyable and good for your health. Research shows that people who have strong relationships are more likely to feel happier, live longer, and be less stressed.

If you want to hear more about making friends after college, check out MWF seeking BFF: My yearlong search for a new best friend. The author of this memoir chronicles her experiences of making new friends after moving to a new city- I highly recommend it!

What is your experience with making friends after college?