03/11/2013 05:40 pm ET Updated May 11, 2013

The Friend Group Factor

I am an off-the-chart extravert.

I get my energy from a crowd, feel recharged after a public presentation, and know full well that my mouth sometimes moves 10 steps ahead of my brain. Making new friends has always been easy for me. Zero effort. Working the room at a reception comes naturally. But every once in a while, we extraverts need to pause and/or duct tape our mouths shut. One of my personal and professional goals for this academic year has been less talking and more listening. As expected, I've heard a lively assortment of student stories about the adjustment to college -- the good, the bad, and the "doozies." But I wasn't prepared for the noticeable emphasis on meeting the "right" people. I need a refresher.

It's all about the friend group.

First-year students want a friend group. And they want it immediately. If a student doesn't have one, was ditched by one, or is in the process of seeking a new one, college can be a very lonely place. Human beings want to connect and feel connected. This should not come as a surprise. In 1989, Lee Upcraft and John Gardner wrote in The Freshman Year Experience, "Students who find others who care about them will succeed." There it is. The influence of the peer group is significant. Today, nearly every college on the planet invests in the first-year experience. Basic components include a frontloaded curriculum/seminar, a team of well-trained student advisers, discussion of important developmental and academic topics, and activities to connect students to the campus, the faculty, and each other. Connections set the tone.

It's my job to understand that transitioning from high school to college can be challenging in a variety of ways. Even for the most outgoing individual. It's not unlike stepping into a strange country and learning a new language, culture, customs, and currency. Students, like world travelers, seek an experience that will change their perspective. They want to connect. They want to learn. They want to reinvent a part of themselves. We encourage students to become independent, self-confident, thoughtful, and fully educated individuals. We hope they will enjoy their time in college. But nobody wants to go it alone. Not even the off-the-chart introvert. Finding a community is a cornerstone of the college experience.

Whether we crusty administrators like it or not, college-bound students use social media to view the profile of their roommates/classmates/teammates before stepping foot on campus. A colleague of mine once suggested that we should change "orientation" to "reunion" because incoming students have already met each other online. They have found an initial -- yet woefully artificial -- friend group. And based on those first impressions, many will come to college with preconceived ideas and expectations for the next four years. Poof. When things don't go according to that plan, it can cause a lot of distress. If and when that happens, make a change. Venture onward. Your people are within reach. I seriously doubt I could find a graduating senior or young alum whose strongest, most meaningful college friendships were cemented in their first semester. Those special, authentic, lasting, and legendary friendships will happen. Trust me.