ost-college life can be a bit of a culture shock. Many students say goodbye to their hectic college schedule -- packed with 9ams, night classes, study sessions, club meetings, and all nighters -- and hello to a 9-to-5. Sure, the stability can be nice -- it feels great to turn off your computer and leave work behind at the end of the day rather than worrying about homework into the night -- but life after college has its challenges as well.
According to a 2019 survey 2,000 people conducted by OnePoll and Evite, 45% of American adults find it difficult to make new friends. And the last time the average American made a new friend? Five years ago. At first glance, those are some pretty glum statistics.
But fret not. We’re here to help you navigate figuring out how to make friends after college. Here’s how we’re breaking it down:
- How many friendships you actually need to be happy (scientifically speaking)
- Some of the most common reasons adults have trouble making friends + how to overcome them
- Tips for keeping your friendships with important people strong and stable throughout your adult life
How Many Friends Do You Need?
What the Science Says About Friendship and Happiness
The right number of friends seems like a hard thing to calculate -- after all, doesn’t it rely on too many factors? Of course the number of friends you need in your life depends on a number of variables -- what’s going on in your life, how introverted or extroverted you are, and so on.
We have a few different types of friendships. Researchers tend to categorize friendships by how deep those friendships are:
- Acquaintances. Think the barista at your favorite coffee shop or some of your colleagues at work. These are people you see all the time and are comfortable enough to chit chat with, but who you don’t have (or necessarily want) a deeper connection with.
- Casual friends. Do you have a buddy that you always go to concerts with? Or a friend who’s always down for a yoga class? These are people you have a closer relationship with, people you make plans with. But without the shared interest or activity, you might not be friends with them.
- Close friends. Are friends who have risen through the ranks of acquaintance to casual friends to something more than that. You like them. You respect them. They know more about your life, and you know more about theirs. This is the type of friend you call when you’ve had a bad day or who will put up with going to a movie they hate because they know how much you love it.
- Intimate friends. This is bff territory. You trust intimate friends with your deepest secrets and can rely on them not to betray that trust.
In the 90s, an Oxford psychologist named Robin Dunbar found that people typically have about 150 friends, but only 5 of those friendships could be considered intimate. A more recent 2019 study by Suzanne Deggs-White confirms that number, showing that people tend to be happiest when they have 3-5 close friends in their corner.
Why It’s Hard to Make Friends After College
A Look at Why Adults Struggle to Build and Maintain Friendships
College is a great place to be for making new friends. After all, every semester you have a new set of classes with a whole new set of people. There are flyers for clubs and activities all over campus. Most universities even have student life departments dedicated to creating new organizations and getting students involved.
After college? You’re pretty much on your own.
That same 2019 study that found many American adults report having trouble making friends did some digging into the reason why. Here’s what they found:
- 42% of people have trouble making friends because they’re shy
- 33% of people don’t like going out to bars and aren’t sure where else to meet people
- 33% of people feel others’ friendship groups are already formed
Participants also cited family obligations and moving to a new city in their young adulthood as reasons making friends after college is difficult.
Even with all those roadblocks, the study’s participants still reported being eager to make new friends, with 45% responding that they would go out of their way to make new friends if the opportunity presented itself.
7 Ways to Make Friends After College
A Guide to Finding and Keeping Friendships as an Adult
The first step to making progress on anything is understanding what obstacles stand in your way. Now that we know why it can be so challenging to make friends after college, we can talk about how to find meaningful new adult friendships anyway.
1. Learn to be comfortable being yourself
One of the common reasons people say they have trouble making friends is because they feel like they don’t have interests or hobbies that allow them to meet new people. So… why not find some?
If you aren’t sure what hobbies you want to pursue, maybe it’s time to try a few! Whether the next hobby you try turns out to be your new thing or not, checking it out will help you learn something about yourself at the very least. And best case scenario? You find a new activity that really adds something to your life and can get involved hanging out with other people who share the same interest. Plus, one of the best ways to bond with new people and transform them from acquaintances into friends is to share experiences with them.
Your hobbies and interests might change over time, so don’t be afraid to keep exploring things that sound interesting to you. You never know where your interests will take you or who you’ll meet along the way.
2. Expand the social circle you already have
After you move out of your college dorm, finding a big friend group becomes pretty difficult. If you’re looking for ways to expand your social circle, consider going out of your way to meet friends of friends. Yes, that might mean tagging along when your friend invites you along on that work function they’ve been talking about or hitting the bar scene when their college roommates, but you might come away with a new friendship.
3. Work with people you’d hang out with
Spending 40+ hours a week really eats up the time you spend meeting new people, so keep that in mind when you’re job hunting. Pay attention to company culture -- if you can see yourself getting along with or hanging out with the people at a prospective job, you’ll probably be much happier there in the long term.
4. Be friends with your family
For most of your life, your family has been there to take care of you. Once you step out on your own -- get your own job, your own place, your own life -- the dynamic of your relationship with your family will change, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Rather than simply being a son or daughter, a sister or brother, you can start building an adult relationship with your family. When your relationship isn’t defined by them trying to keep you alive and get you ready to face the world, it’s much easier to actually be friends.
5. Be friends with your partner
Your partner is someone you spend a lot of time with, so hopefully your relationship with them ticks a lot of the friendship boxes: shared interests, shared values, mutual understanding and respect.
As an adult, you’re also likely to hit milestones in your relationships that you didn’t in your younger relationships. Particularly after you move in with your partner, you’ll just have a lot of downtime together. So make it fun! Watch movies together. Show each other the video games you played as kids. Plan road trips, brainstorm tattoos, go on adventures. This is your person, and that makes them one of the most important friends you will ever have.
6. Don’t be afraid to embrace digital friendships
Online friendships sometimes get looked down upon, but in the 21st century digital friendships should be a totally normal thing to have. We’re more connected than we ever have been before, which means our pool of potential friends has expanded exponentially over the last few generations.
Whether that means finding a Facebook group for wholesome memes, striking up conversations on your favorite subreddit, growing your following as a Twitch streamer, interacting with people by starting your own blog, or something entirely different, technology can be a powerful tool for fostering new friendships.
7. Apply networking rules to your friendships
Sounds boring, but networking strategies are great for maintaining friendships as well as professional relationships. Touch base with your friends. Let them know you’re thinking about them, or send them something funny you think they’d enjoy. Reach out for important events -- birthdays, holidays, big life events.
You’re both adults now. That means you don’t have to text them 24/7 to let them know you care, but continuing to reach out and make an effort to be a part of each other’s lives will go a long way to helping your friendships flourish.
Making friends after college may not be as easy as walking into a lecture hall and striking up a conversation with the person next to you, but the extra effort can result in strong friendships that last the rest of your life. Keep searching for people who help you, inspire you, and you all-around enjoy spending time with, and you’ll be just fine. Good luck!