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Ten Tricks to Finding Your Niche at a Huge University

Oct 03, 2011

Large universities can make individual students feel like a drop in the bucket. But if you play your cards right, you can situate yourself as a big fish in a seemingly small pond. Here are some tips for finding your place at a huge school.

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By Sarah Wright

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1. Focus on Your Interests

In order to find a niche that is right for you, you'll need to identify and concentrate on specific interests. If you're interested in studying environmental sciences, for example, you'll want to tailor your academic and extracurricular activities toward that field. The good thing about most large universities is that there are a lot of different ways to pursue your passions, both in and outside of the classroom.

2. Don't Waste Your Free Time

Parties are a fun and liberating aspect of college, and by no means should you avoid them entirely. But getting into a cycle where every moment not spent in class is spent 'partying' is going to be damaging to your ability to find a productive place for yourself on campus. Try to relegate this type of socializing to the weekends, and spend your free time doing something that will lead to productive work and social connections.

3. Find an On-Campus Job

Work experience is an important thing to have by the time you graduate, but beyond that, having an on-campus job can help you feel like you have a place you belong. A job that hires other student employees can help you get to know more people, and it can also help you become familiar with staff and faculty who might lend a hand if you need one.

4. Don't Eat Alone

This can be tricky, but eating alone in the dining hall is usually a waste of an opportunity to meet new people. Not everyone is going to be receptive to a stranger sitting down with them, but you can look at this as an exercise in getting over a fear of rejection. You'll be surprised how many new and interesting people you can meet just by making the simple gesture of sitting down and striking up a conversation with another solo diner. You might even gain a reputation for being friendly, and make some new friends.

5. Get Involved With Sports

Playing sports as a non-scholarship student at a large university can be tough. Some schools offer intramural sports for those who didn't make the cut for the main team, and that can be a fun way to get some activity in and meet new people. Large schools with popular sports teams also have organizations for students who wish to function in a support role. If you're really into your school's team, you might be able to join a spirit league or other organization that centers around sports.

6. Look into Student Government

Student government can be a great way to get involved with your school. You don't necessarily have to run for student body president, but a lower-level position might help you feel more connected to the school. The added bonus of this activity is that it can connect you to important school administrators, and can look great on a resume.

7. Start an Organization

If there isn't a club, sport or group on your campus that interests you, why not start your own? If you know something about bicycle repair and would like to start a bike workshop, find out what it takes to start an on-campus organization and put your skills to work. Starting a group can help attract other students with like interests toward you, and can also give you something productive to focus on in your free time.

8. Make Friends Who Don't Live in Your Dorm

If you live in a huge dormitory, it can be easy to consider your friend-making work done, given that there are so many people at your disposal all the time. But the ability to make friends independent of obvious connections like housing is an important skill, and knowing a wider range of people will help you feel more independent and secure in your social life.

9. Get to Know Your Professors

This can be a challenge at large universities, where big-name professors often have little to do with undergraduate classes. But if you know what you want to major in, you should try to get to know the faculty and staff in that department. Professors and TAs often offer office hours, and this can be a great way to make your presence known. Getting to know your department can help you find a place within that department. This can be especially important if you want to pursue graduate study in your field.

10. Keep Busy

Attending a large university may seem overwhelming at first, and it might seem like you'll never find your place. But if you keep trying new things, you're bound to find something that clicks. The worst thing you can do is to do nothing. Retreating to your dorm room at every opportunity will not help you make social and academic connections. Plus, working yourself out of your comfort zone now is great practice for the challenges you'll likely meet once school is over.

Another important thing for college students to know is how to avoid making excuses.

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