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How to Make Your Big University Feel Like a Small College

Many college students are wary of attending a large university because they fear an impersonal campus experience. But those who go to big schools needn't be resigned to an anonymous college environment. Learn ten tips students can use to create a sense of community and belonging on any campus, including the largest universities.

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By Douglas Fehlen

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1. Try out a new student group.

Being part of groups that incorporate your interests can help you connect with like-minded peers and reduce feelings of anonymity at a large school. Also think about joining student organizations you maybe haven't considered before. Try out a group that piques your curiosity or seems offbeat. You'll get a fuller view of what your school has to offer and meet people you may not have crossed paths with otherwise. Remember that attending a meeting or two doesn't mean you have to make a commitment.

2. Get out on the weekends.

As a college student, relaxing on the couch or using your two free days to catch up on homework can be tempting. These activities certainly have their place, but try to also spend time on the weekends hanging out at campus gathering areas and off-campus hot spots. Meeting new people is usually easier on the weekend because students aren't inhibited by weekday stresses. Large universities often resemble small cities, and they feature a bustling student life that's all their own. Being part of the pulse of campus life is a way to feel more at home at your school.

3. Attend campus events.

Campus events feature excellent opportunities to meet people at school. It's often easier to connect with others in relaxed environments such as sporting events, campus rallies and other special occasions. Many colleges have annual traditions that offer the chance to celebrate school pride and bond with peers. Professors and other staff members often attend campus events, giving you the opportunity to get to know instructors outside of the academic setting.

4. Join a study group.

Joining a study group is an effective way to get in some socializing time while staying on top of your academic responsibilities. Studying with peers in your current classes can help you form a community you may be able to keep intact in the future. If students in your courses can't seem to coordinate schedules, try posting an advertisement around campus or online. To keep things lively, your study group may want to switch up meeting places - including meeting at off-campus venues.

5. Get to know your RA.

If you live in dorm, get to know your resident adviser. An RA will typically have informed perspectives on all aspects of life on campus. She or he might also offer opportunities for you to get involved in residence hall events. This kind of active participation can help you get to know others in your dorm and instill you with a greater sense of community. If it's allowed, you might join your RA for a residence life meeting with other resident advisers. That way you're likely to become more informed about campus issues and events.

6. Find favorite campus hangouts.

The size of your university may be daunting, but the campus can begin to seem smaller after you're able to do some exploring. Go on a self-guided tour, taking your time to get a good idea of what the campus has to offer. As you gain a sense of the campus as a whole, also try to identify the places where you feel most comfortable. Find cozy cafés, cool bookstores, hip record shops and other locales where you're likely to run into other students who share your interests.

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7. Connect with professors.

Professors appreciate students who take their classes seriously, and they typically relish the opportunity to talk about course topics. Take a few minutes before or after a session to tell a professor what you enjoy about class. Stop by during office hours to talk about readings. Connecting with instructors can make you feel more plugged in to student life at a large institution. It can feel pretty good to walk through a department building and bump into instructors you get on well with.

8. Get a campus job.

Working on campus can give you a different perspective on student life. You'll have the chance to meet other student workers and get a sense of how various parts of the campus interact. A school job can help you stay informed about campus issues and activities. It may also provide unexpected opportunities to get involved in unique ways around your school. If campus jobs are scarce or unavailable to you, consider volunteering in an office or department that interests you.

9. Hang out in common areas.

Sipping a coffee in your school's student union or relaxing on the grassy lawn of the commons gives you a chance to casually observe campus happenings. Spending time in popular common areas allows you to take in the diversity of student life while meeting new people. Student events and activities are regularly scheduled in these areas, so keep your eyes open for things of interest to you. Regularly hanging out in student common areas can make your school feel less like a huge faceless institution and more like a close community.

10. Stay informed.

Staying current on school news is a good way to feel connected on campus. The school newspaper (and its accompanying website) is a solid source of information that can also provide insight into an institution's personality. Campus organization websites, student blogs and other online resources can also help you grasp different perspectives. Additionally, campus radio and television stations are good places to get information on your school and student attitudes. Accessing these hyper-local media can help you to feel a sense of belonging on campus.

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