Advice for Awkward People

Hey Natalie,

So I’m about to start my first semester at college, and I come from out of state. I was the only one from my school – from my town, even – to go to Carnegie Mellon, so I feel like I’m all alone here. Everyone in my hometown all went to the same school, so we all practically grew up together. Coming here, I feel like I left everything behind – including all my friends.

Carnegie Mellon is somewhat a big school and there are tons of people, but I feel like I’m waaaay too socially awkward to try to make friends. I know the whole purpose of orientation is to meet new people and make friends, but I’m still super worried that everyone else already knows someone and already has friends here. Also, having to live with a roommate who is practically a stranger really freaks me out, but I don’t want to be alone. Do you have any advice for me?

-Loner, Oddball, Shy Too

Dear LOST,

Coming to a new school can be scary, especially to one that’s in a completely different state. I get how you feel: whether high school was a good experience or not, you spent four years with the same people in the same place. You spent all that time getting to know people and built friendships - and now, it feels like you have to do it all over again.

But the beautiful thing about college is this: everyone’s in the exact same boat. I remember first coming to Carnegie Mellon – I’m from out of state too, my hometown being a good couple thousand miles away in California – and feeling pretty similarly to you. But everything got easier the moment I realized that there were plenty of other people around me who felt the exact same way – scared, anxious, and alone. Turns out, those feelings are a pretty unanimous freshman year experience. Who knew, eh?

In all seriousness, it can be pretty scary to put yourself out there. It’s easy to acknowledge that everyone else is just as anxious as you are, but harder to do something about it. It will probably take a few days for everything to settle and to feel normal, but you will most definitely make friends soon enough. You are an amazing person surrounded by amazing people who all want to make friends, so I really encourage you to be brave and say just one word: “Hi.” After all, a great many friendships have started with a simple greeting! You’ll find out soon enough that Carnegie Mellon is full of incredibly open and welcoming people, and it’ll start to feel like home.

If you’re looking for some specifics, there are some really simple ways to try to grow your friend circle! For instance, leave the door to your dorm room open (while you’re in your room, of course)! This presents itself as a literal open invitation for others to say hi, and encourages conversations. Explore the different clubs on campus and join one that suits your interests. Clubs are always super friendly and eager to get new members, and can lead to some really meaningful and lasting relationships. And honestly, your RAs and OCs are your friends. They’ll always be happy to point you to your class or sit down and eat lunch with you.

You’ve already done an amazing job getting here and have already taken some brave steps to begin with. And I know it can be hard to see, but leaving your hometown is not an end. It’s just a new beginning.

Good luck to ya out there,

P.s. about your roommate – don’t wake them up at ungodly hours of the morning, and you’ll be fine. I promise.


Dear Natalie,

I’m going to be blunt: I’m worried college will be too hard for me. High school wasn’t that bad, I was a straight-A AP student, but hearing other students talk it seems like my grades are going to take a serious drop and it seriously worries me.

I mean, I already know Carnegie Mellon isn’t exactly a school where I can breeze on by. I’ve always tried to get A’s and get the best possible scores, but I get really discouraged when I hear other students say, “Well, I just need to pass to get my degree!” I’m just worried that I’m going to really struggle here. Do you have any advice about the college workload?

-From An Idiot Loser

Dear FAIL,

Since you did me the honor of being blunt, I will do you the same: I won’t lie. College can get pretty tough. There may be moments where you question your major or the legitimacy of your place here at Carnegie Mellon. But you know what? You’ve already got what it takes to succeed here. How do I know that, you might ask? Well, you’re already here, aren’t you?

We place a lot of our personal worth on our academic performance, especially at higher colleges like Carnegie Mellon. It can be difficult to separate yourself from the percentage you get on an exam, trust me, I know. A lot of straight-A and AP students have trouble dealing with the fact that their GPA will never be a 4.7 again, and that’s totally okay. The most important thing to remember is that it is MORE THAN okay to ask for help.

My freshman year, I seriously struggled in Calculus despite having an A in my math class senior year. It might sound silly, but for a long time I refused to ask for help; back in high school, asking for help meant you couldn’t do it yourself, which meant you weren’t as smart as the kids who could (brutal, isn’t it?). I had to come to a tough realization that I was going to fail if I didn’t, so I took the hard-to-swallow pill and went to tutoring. I had almost failed a class just because I was too prideful to ask for help. But once I did, everything got so much easier.

Everyone struggles. There will always be a hard class. But there are some really great resources on campus to help you when you need it. Your biggest one is your fellow students! We all know the struggle, and in my experience, everyone has been more than willing to help you out if you need it. There’s always tutoring – taught by TAs and upperclassmen – and you can get professional coaching through our Academic Development center. Go to office hours, reach out to your professor – we’re all here to help you succeed, and there is no shame in asking others for help.

TL;DR: Don’t be freshman year me. Ask for help when you need it. Someone will gladly be there for you to help with a tricky formula or to bring you those sweet sweet calculus notes.

Now get out there and get those grades!