Illustration by Leanna Wright.

In high school and my first couple of years of college (and even now at 21), I wasn’t really into going to parties or drinking a lot. In high school I sometimes felt like I was not as fun or well-liked as some of my peers when I heard about the cool kids doing cool party things on the weekend. For the most part, though, my close friends and I were on the same page about how we wanted to spend our weekends. I was by no means morally against drinking alcohol, but I never wanted to be somewhere where people were drinking irresponsibly. Toward the end of high school, my friends would occasionally throw small parties that fit my criteria for drinking, but we more often than not preferred to head to the movies or take a hiking trip.

At college, my social media feeds grew with photos of new acquaintances that seemed to prove true the myth that college is one constant party, and everyone is part of it. I prefered to make friends one-on-one, like on a coffee date, than with many people at once, like at a party of all new college freshman. The idea of trying to befriend a new group of people all at once, while drunk, was intimidating. I also knew I wanted to be a resident assistant when I got to be an upperclassman, and drinking in the dorms was a policy violation that could prevent me from getting hired in the future. (Update: I’m an RA now and loving it!) I wanted to form friendships in more intimate settings without the stress that I felt around alcohol, but it seemed like everyone was making friends while drinking at dorm parties. I worried that people would judge me for being different, and that I wouldn’t be able to make friends on my own terms without seeming like I was judging people who chose to drink on weekends.

Here’s what I wish I knew back then: In college, most people don’t care what I do or don’t do (and anyone who gives you grief for not drinking alcohol is definitely not friend material). That being said, if someone meets me and wants to be my friend, they’ll probably invite me to do something they like, which could involve drinking. I’m neither morally superior nor eternally nerdy if I choose not to join them. I also wish I knew that—despite most media about college students centering on partying—there are so many ways to meet people, make friends, and stay busy on the weekends.

Here are some tricks I wish I could go back and tell my first-year self to stop her feeling so insecure about her social life.

Check your notifications.

I sometimes hear my classmates complaining about the influx of emails they get each day from various departments of our university—but those emails can be a goldmine! Academic departments, student government, clubs, dorm buildings, RAs, and student life organizations all use email as a primary medium for advertising their events and opportunities. That’s a LOT of free food just waiting to be eaten.

During my freshman year, my school had interest groups for first-year students that offered field trip programs throughout the semester. I was assigned to the science group, and I decided to join in for a trip to the American Museum of Natural History (which is now one of my favorite places in the entire world). As we meandered through the museum, I’d strike up a conversation with people in my group by mentioning an interesting thing I had learned at that exhibit, something along the lines of, “Wow, did you see that skeleton of a giant ground sloth? Can you believe how tall it was?” I kept testing the waters with different people, and if we got into a conversation I would ask them their name. I spent more time chatting with people who had funny commentary on the exhibits and those who were interested in learning from the museum. There was one person on the trip that I admired because she seemed curious about everything the museum had to offer. I talked with her the most and added her on Facebook that week, too. A couple years later, she and I are good friends, creative collaborators, and still gush about our favorite museums together. I don’t know when else I would have met her had I not signed up for those interest group trips.

Get on the email lists of all the clubs and academic departments you’re interested in, even if you don’t attend meetings or take classes in that department. That way you’ll get invited to their bigger events throughout the semester, such as field trips, exhibitions, guest talks, and internship opportunities. If you live in a dorm, your RA probably hosts small events that are solely focused on facilitating relationships between residents of your building. Wade through those GIF-laden emails from your university to find events that will help you meet people with similar interests, whether that is a shared love for astronomy or just a passion for free food.

Get to class early.

This is one way to change your classmates from strangers into friends. You probably already admire a couple of people in your classes—maybe it’s how they always bring up your favorite author or ask the questions you were thinking or the Pusheen stickers on their laptop. You want to be their friend, BUT HOW??? Get to class early, about 10 minutes before the start. Most people will be sitting around scrolling through social media, but you can use this time to socialize.

Sit next to your future friend and ask them what they think of the professor, how they tackle the homework, or maybe how they’re preparing for the next test. Would they perhaps like to form a study group with you? Maybe you could grab coffee together after studying? Are they interested in attending an event the department is hosting this weekend, one you heard about from an EMAIL? (See how this all comes together?) If they are interested in academic collaboration (and perhaps even friendship!), get their email or phone number before class ends and BAM—there’s a friend! You did that!

Join a class outside of class.

Your college might offer free extracurricular classes and clubs on the weekends in yoga, painting, music, poetry, or dance. Signing up for a class on Friday or Saturday night gives you a place to be and people to meet without alcohol being part of the equation. Classes on Saturday and Sunday mornings give you an excuse to call it an early night on Fridays and Saturdays—so if a someone invites you to a Huge Rager™ you could say “Thank you for the invite to the Huge Rager™, but I have an early class the next morning—wanna do Sunday brunch instead?” Congrats, you’re learning a new skill at your class, you don’t feel pressure to go a party, AND you have brunch plans.

I love attending nearby Columbia University’s stargazing and lecture series on Friday nights. The events are open to the public and include a lecture about a specific topic in astronomy, followed by stargazing on the building’s roof through telescopes. I love astronomy and astrophysics, and this is always a fun opportunity for me to get out and spend quality time with a good friend or two, learn something, and check out some stars.

Join a team.

Sports can be a hefty time commitment, but can also be another good excuse to hit the hay early on weekends (“Would love to go to the Huge Rager™ but I have a tournament tomorrow, can’t let my team down!”). Sports can also introduce you to an entire team of new friends. Additionally, managing time for practice and competitions can help you structure your schedule as you adjust to college life and homework loads. When you have to be at the track by 7 AM and you know you’re going to need at least eight hours of sleep and a bowl of spaghetti the night before to fuel your workout, you can plan the rest of the day around practice, sleep, and food. When you have to fit your workload around practice, you are forced to consider how to manage those responsibilities ahead of time—all of a sudden, you’ve organized your whole schedule. If you weren’t a very dedicated athlete in high school or are just learning your chosen sport, look into intramural and club sports on campus, which tend to be less competitive and have more flexible schedules. You also can’t go wrong with starting your own Quidditch team on campus.

Be the host with the most ideas.

When you host a social gathering you can control what comes into the environment. This could look like: Your two favorite friends? Check! Disney movies? Check! Alcohol? You decide, you’re the host! If you live in a dorm, you can host friends for movie marathons, collaging, zine making, embroidering hats or patches, or cooking and baking new recipes (if your building has a kitchen). If you think of an event you’d like to host that requires a little bit of cash, pitch it to your RA—they probably have a program budget and might be interested in funding an event that is open to the floor or building to join in.

College is such an exciting time, and you have what it takes to build a fun, active, enriching social life, whether or not partying or alcohol are on your agenda. Get out there, introduce yourself, get involved, and have a blast. ♦