Making friends is hard. Making friends in an online class is even harder.
But forming meaningful connections with your classmates improves your college experience — and it can help your grades and job prospects.
In a virtual setting, the typical "how to make friends in college" advice doesn't quite apply. For in-person classes, the barriers to meeting people are much lower. It's easy to chat with the person next to you before the lecture or ask a classmate if they want to study in the library after class. Trying to make friends through a computer screen, meanwhile, can seem impossible.
So how can you connect with classmates in a virtual setting? Let's walk through the best tips and suggestions for how to make friends in your online classes.
Tips for Making Friends in an Online Class
Participate in Class
Whether you're making comments during a Zoom breakout room or posting on the class discussion board, participating goes a long way when making friends in online classes.
When you actively engage in the class, your classmates will start to recognize your face (or avatar). That makes it easier for you to reach out to them directly without seeming weird or making them uncomfortable. You won't be "that stranger from class" — you'll be "the one who made an interesting point during the discussion on economic incentives."
Find Small Talk Opportunities
Many online classes include breakout sessions or small group work. Make the most of these settings by finding small talk opportunities. Start by asking questions related to the class, and save the more personal questions until you've established a rapport.
The best ice breaker might be as simple as, "Did anyone understand that lecture?" or "Was anyone else confused by the reading assignment?" Most classes encourage students to help each other understand the material, and a conversation about the most recent lecture can turn into a friendship.
- "Why'd you sign up for this class?"
- "What other classes are you taking?"
- "What's your major?"
- "What's your research paper topic?"
- "Does anyone want to create a study group?"
Form or Join a Study Group
A study group is a great way to turn class-related conversations into a personal connection. In the less formal setting of a study group, you can share more about yourself and learn about your classmates.
If there isn't a study group for your class, consider forming a new one. Asking classmates whether they want to create a study group is a great way to break the ice and connect with people who are interested in talking outside of class.
A study group can be as simple as a once-a-week Zoom session to talk about the course or more frequent meet-ups to prepare for an exam.
Start the first meeting by asking everyone to introduce themselves and say why they're taking the class. An ice breaker at the beginning of a study session helps participants relax and build connections with one another.
Hanging out in a study group offers another bonus, too: better grades.
Join a Student Group or Club
Making friends in college is also about increasing your chances of seeing people outside of class. On campus, you might bump into classmates on the quad or at the library. In a virtual setting, you'll need to think more creatively about where to connect with people.
Student groups and clubs are a great way for online students to connect. Many online colleges offer groups and clubs for distance learners or allow online students to join on-campus clubs.
Joining a club related to your major also means meeting people who share your interests and might be in your classes. This makes it easier to come up with conversation topics and make connections.
Attend Networking and Social Events
Many online programs host networking or social events to help students forge connections. Signing up for online guest lectures, job or internship fairs, and student meet-ups can all help you connect with online classmates.
Networking and social events in particular offer a big benefit: People only sign up if they want to connect with their fellow students. That makes these events an easy way to meet new people, learn more about them, and potentially build friendships. Plus, those connections can also help graduates advance their careers.
Making friends in an online class means putting yourself out there. Sometimes you have to be the person awkwardly asking people on the discussion board if they want to start a group chat.
Remember: Many of your classmates are probably also nervous about making friends. It's not easy to connect in an online class, especially an asynchronous class without live sessions. Instead of worrying about seeming awkward, encourage yourself to take a risk. Your classmates will probably be glad that you broke the ice and made the first move.
There's another important reason to make friends in your online classes: Your classmates, particularly students in your major, will become an important part of your professional network after graduation. By making friends, you'll set yourself up for academic and professional success.
Building Lasting Friendships in Online College
You've connected with classmates, formed a study group, and turned a group of strangers into acquaintances. How can you take the next step and create friendships that continue after your class ends?
As the end of the term approaches, make sure you have ways to stay in touch outside of the class message board. Connect on social media platforms or consider signing up for a class together next term.
If you're in the same city, you could even meet up in person — but follow your classmates' social cues. If they aren't interested in hanging out, or they'd prefer to keep things virtual, don't pressure them.
It's definitely possible to make friends in an online setting. Millions of social media and message board friendships are proof of that. So instead of logging out at the end of class, invest in building relationships that will last beyond college.
Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University. After earning her doctorate in early modern European history, Carlton worked as an assistant professor of history at the University of Louisville, where she developed new courses on the history of science, Renaissance Italy, and the witch trials. Carlton has published five peer-reviewed articles in top presses and a monograph with the University of Chicago Press. She also earned tenure with a unanimous vote before relocating to Seattle. Learn more about Carlton's work at genevievecarlton.com.
Header Image Credit: Westend61 | Getty Images
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