I’ve always associated college with fresh starts. Growing up in a small Westchester suburb, everyone in my grade pretty much knew everything about each other from the minute we were in Kindergarten. The “image” that you developed when you were in elementary school more or less stuck with you until graduation, with maybe a slight deterioration in your love for caramel frappuccinos and Camp Rock.
My home friends and I would joke about new “college personas,” laughing at the idea of doing a complete 180 from our high school selves. Of course we weren’t actually planning to make such a drastic change, but it was still fun to think about. While there were many benefits to growing up in a tight knit community, the idea of reinvention was exciting.
Within days of getting accepted to Lehigh University, I realized that this “fresh start” I had envisioned was not going to be nearly as “fresh” as I had anticipated. I gained nearly 200 followers on Instagram (#SubtleFlex), and the stalking began. Instagram’s mutual followers feature became my best friend, letting me channel my inner ~Joe Goldberg~ by seeing which of my current followers knew various Lehigh people that I was connecting with.
I was overwhelmed yet excited, browsing through profiles, searching through mutual friends and trying to gain intel. I found myself judging others’ feeds, since it was the only way to get to know people aside from the occasional chaotic college meetup, which, not gonna lie, was minimal help. While I knew it would be fun to go to college knowing no one, it felt as though the race was on to find friends and a roommate.
From December through May, stalking incoming Lehigh students was my guilty pleasure. I was eager to investigate who knew who and to find potential friends. “Do you like her? What’s her vibe?” I asked my camp friends about their Lehigh-bound home friends and vice versa, hanging onto their every word. Making mental notes, I found myself valuing the opinions of my high school friends more than my own. When friends asked me for my opinions on various people, I gave them, even if I didn’t know much about the person. It was fun to make these connections, but I couldn’t help but worry about what my acquaintances may be telling other Lehigh students about me.
As I became reliant on social media, I also faced the reality that it was a two-way street. Posting on Instagram, which I had previously done casually, became somewhat stressful. I began to overthink my captions, photos and filters, aware that incoming freshmen like myself would be similarly using this platform as a basis of judgment. I attempted to view my own Instagram profile from the eyes of an outsider, wondering how I would be portrayed. Girls I had never met commented “so pretty!” on my photos, so I did it mindlessly in return.
So to the girl who just got into college and is rushing to find friends before you get there, I feel you. If I could give you any advice with my semester (plus a half semester in-person), I would say to give people the same clean slate that you want to be given when you get to school. Just how you want a fresh start, everyone else does too. So while it may be difficult, try not to make assumptions based on someone’s Instagram photos, or on whatever you may have heard about them.
And yes, here’s the annoying cliché you have been waiting for.: you really do find your people once you get to school, regardless of how much social media “glirting” you did or how many mutual friends you may have come in with. Yes, I would be a liar to say that I am not close friends with girls who I met mutually, or ones who I talked to in advance, but I can say that many of my close friends are not the ones who commented “stunner!!!! **heart eyes**” on my Insta pics before school, or even ones who I knew existed before we got there.
So while using social media as a form of connection is clearly not going away any time soon, my point is just to stay open minded. In hindsight, it was hypocritical for me to make perceptions of others based on social media and what I had heard about them, especially when I didn’t want people to do that to me. While social media does have its benefits, just take your camp friend’s boy friend’s best friend’s brother’s dog’s opinion of someone with a grain of salt.