Written by Anjaly Nagarajan (Wharton '24).
When I look back on my childhood, I barely remember making friends. It was as if these random people appeared in my life, instantly integrated through playing dress up, going to the zoo, and creating music videos to the newest Taylor Swift song (let’s be honest, have things really changed with TikTok?).
My name is Anjaly Nagarajan, and I am a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who is tentatively concentrating in finance and behavioral economics and minoring in computer science and data science. I am originally from a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, and I was fortunate enough to grow up in one location from kindergarten through senior year of high school, so the friends I made were people I had known for practically my whole life. The earliest friendship I distinctly remember having to make an effort for was in seventh grade when we transitioned from our elementary school to the middle/high school. Her name was Suzanne, and we were forced to bond as the only two girls on the Science Bowl team. Unlike most friendships, I can pinpoint the moment we became friends: after I let her explain the two-hour long plot line to Wicked the musical on the trip to our competition. Six years later, we gave our graduation speech together.
Unlike a majority of my high school friends, after graduation, I was moving to an entirely new state, halfway across the country, and without anyone I knew previously. I was excited at the prospect of rebranding myself and finding the lifelong friends I have always read and heard about, but I was also nervous that everyone would be smarter, cooler, and simply more put together than me.
Thus, I wanted to put together a ~guide~ of how I made some of the best friends in the midst of a pandemic. As I write this in my childhood bedroom while visiting home, I am shocked at how much separation anxiety I have after only spending 3 months with some of these beautiful souls, and I am excited to see how many more spectacular people I’ll meet over the next few years.
Now, let's get down to business.
You just got into college.
YAY!! Congratulations! Honestly, surviving high school was hard enough, so regardless of where you ended up, it really was an achievement. Now, instead of stressing about finals, prom, and graduation, you may get hit with a whole new challenge: how to reintroduce yourself. Normally, it all starts with making friends online through social media, facebook groups, GroupMe's, etc. The first daunting task I faced was the introductory facebook post. Not only did I wait until regular decision came out (since I applied ED), but I also analyzed the most popular posts to see what people responded to. The trick? Be genuine. The best part of college is that everyone has had such diverse experiences, so whether you are a raging Haikyuu nerd or a ride-or-die Packer fan (both me!), you will find people who vibe with you. Personally, I loved to hear about people’s unique hobbies, dreams, and quirks, just because it was much more of a bonding experience to discover a shared love for puns and matcha ice cream rather than basketball or traveling in general.
Eventually, you begin to find groups of people with common interests, so consider taking the extra step to create a group chat! I vividly remember commenting on a girl’s facebook post that I loved the same board games, and a few days later, I found myself in a thirty person group chat. Not only would we play Catan, werewolf/mafia, resistance, and more weekly, but I began to realize that there truly was a place for everyone on Penn’s campus.
The Roommate Dilemma
The first really really big decision: who are you going to be stuck with every day for your first year of college. Do you pick someone who has similar rooming tendencies or someone who will push you out of your comfort zone? Early risers or insomniacs? Party animal or someone who never leaves the room? Even something as simple as people who sleep at 60 degrees or 75 degrees can end up at odds. Or, do you leave it all to chance?
Around May, a few people of the Penn ‘24 class had the genius idea of creating a large rooming spreadsheet with everyone’s hobbies, tendencies, and what they were looking for in a roommate. Somehow, based on that as well as facebook posts, I found my ride or die and absolute best friend at Penn who is also my future roommate for the foreseeable future.
At first, talking to a roommate feels almost scripted. I wanted to be witty and relatable but also not too generic to blend into her other potential roommate options. As someone with relatively diverse interests, I felt that I was able to vibe with a lot of people, but as I got closer to certain people, I began to feel the pressure to commit. I had narrowed it down to two people who I really thought I could get along with, and so I asked the one who I had been talking to for longer. I remember feeling embarrassed and let down when she said she already had found a roommate and wished I had asked a little earlier. All around me, my high school friends who had only talked to someone for a week or two were finding roommates, so I began to feel the pressure and temptation to go random. Gathering my courage again, I decided to ask the second person, my current roommate.
Not going to lie, when I received a list of 20 questions in response to my suggestion to room, I immediately felt apprehensive about my decision. Now looking back, I always make fun of her for interrogating me and my tendencies when half of the things that we talked about have drastically changed (I do indeed go to bed at 3am instead of 11pm now). Although it is never a certainty how you and your roommate will bond, try to pick someone who will make living in an 180 square foot room bearable, and who knows, maybe you will find your friend soulmate as a result. I genuinely could not have found a better roommate, but I think that luck and putting myself forward definitely played a large role.
Quick aside, how did you make friends during a pandemic?
Social media exhaustion. Being forced to make friends and communicate over Instagram dm's and Snapchats undoubtedly erased my social media addictions. I would check Instagram at least two to three times a day prior to getting into college and now, it's a miracle if I scroll through my feed once a week. I even got to the point where my high school friends and I compiled lists of conversation topics to have with new college friends. However, I loved having my dm's full because I got to meet random people from across the world, and it made it easier for me to be their friends when I got to Penn. It also pushed me to be more extroverted. During high school, I would often justify not going out with my friends because I had to study for a test or get ahead in a class. This ambiverted approach worked because I was forced to interact with my friends during our eight hour school day, but in college (especially during a virtual year), you could easily stay cooped inside your room 24/7.
A virtual semester meant that I wasn’t going to meet random people who I had nothing in common with but possibly lived near or saw at a party or event. It also made it difficult to form actual friend groups as opposed to individual friends who I would eventually introduce to one another. I decided to join a ton of clubs, become active in my classes, and attend all of the get-to-know-you events in order to maximize my social reach. Now looking back, I see that not everyone that you talk to virtually will end up being your friend in person. However, it was a great experience to present myself and expand my horizons, especially coming from a small town.
Wait- how do I make friends in real life again?
So remember how you were talking to all those random people? NOW IT’S TIME TO FINALLY MEET THEM!! Because of some personal reasons, I was unable to go to campus for the first two weeks, yet almost every day, I had someone new ask me to make plans not because of my ~sparkling personality;)~ but just because everyone was just so eager to make friends. Use this to your advantage as much as you can freshman year since people are more open and excited about simply being on a college campus for the first time as an actual student. Of course, you will inevitably meet and hang out with the people in your building, floor, and hall a lot, and through them, you can likely expand your friend group to include those ‘random’ people you probably do not have a direct connection to. I strongly recommend joining some sort of social club whether it be an athletic team, sorority/frat, or an interest group. Joining an Indian dance team was the best decision I made my freshmen fall because it not only helped me prevent my freshman fifteen but also gave me a way to meet all these wonderful, supportive upperclassmen who could shower me with advice about Penn, Philly, my career, and life in general. If you are the type of person that enjoys spontaneous interactions and conversations, I highly recommend studying in public spaces whether that be outside, in the libraries, or in the lounges/common rooms because people will always stop by to say hi.
Pretty much! Senior year of high school, I was simultaneously dreading and overflowing with excitement at having to rebrand myself and start over in the friend department. Flash-forward a year and I am already sad that my freshman experience is coming to an end and that I will not see most of my friends for three months in person. My final recommendations to you are to push yourself out of your comfort zone and always put yourself out there. I promise that if you ask anyone to hang out with you, they will 100% say yes, and you never know which of these people will end up your lifelong friends. :)
About the Author:
Anjaly Nagarajan ('24) is an undergraduate student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania concentrating in finance and behavioral economics and minoring in computer science and data science. She has been a member of Wharton Women since her freshman year, starting on the Internal Events Committee, then transitioning to her current positions as Editor in Chief of Dollar Scholars and Outreach Chair of Dressing for Success. At Penn, she is involved in other investing, consulting, and management clubs, as well as the Penn Raas dance team and Penn's essay editing team, QuakerEdit. For questions, you can reach Anjaly at email@example.com.