Ethan Vaughan, Staff Writer

College is a strange place in many ways and in many more ways a strange time. In college, you’re independent of your parents for the first time—but still completely dependent on them, because they’re the ones paying your tuition even if they’re not rooming with you in the dorm to keep tabs on what you’re eating, who you’re hanging out with and whether you’re doing your schoolwork.

In college, the freedom you yearned for in high school is finally reached, only to result in some things that you never would have wanted. Many college students feel the sting of the Freshmen 15, or, for the truly exceptional, the Freshmen 50. Late nights, bad food and gallons of caffeine leave you either jittery or sleep deprived, or a weird combination of both. Yet for the cramped quarters, the substandard dining and the sometimes-startling conditions of the shared bathrooms, you’re somehow having the best time of your life.

Except when you’re not.

College is also supposed to be when people blossom into themselves and meet the friends who they’ll be close with the rest of their lives. When that doesn’t pan out the way you thought it would, college can be cruel. I am a talkative and friendly person, so when I find myself in a crowded place, like the Southside dining hall on campus, I tend to make conversation with those around me.

In the last week, I’ve met three separate freshmen, all of whom were sitting alone. Within five minutes, two of them had started pouring out their anxieties, ranging from a lackluster social life to missing friends from home.

The first, a pretty girl with brown hair, asked me, “Is it supposed to suck this bad?”

The second one, a laid-back young man who by appearances seemed fine, confessed, “You know, I’m feeling pretty homesick right now.”

“That’s normal,” I said.

“Yeah . . .” he replied. “When does it go away?”

The fact is, a person’s first year of college can sometimes be difficult, and is often far from the idealized, hard-partying experience. Many people who knew the same friends from kindergarten to high school graduation find it hard to suddenly start over, and if you’re not out on the town every weekend it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you.

If you’re a freshman (or an upperclassman, for that matter) and you aren’t relishing school, there’s a lot you can do.  Roommates are always a great place to start. If you and your roommate have common interests, try hanging out. Sometimes it’s easier to get out there as a team, and take on the George Mason University social scene together.

Roommates don’t always mesh though, and not all are meant to be best buddies. If that’s the case, and even if it isn’t, there are plenty of clubs on campus catering to a wide variety of hobbies and philosophies. Pride Alliance, Model UN, the African Student Association, Campus Crusade for Christ, the Anime Club, the Belly Dance Club and a whole host of fraternities, sororities and sports groups are just some of the more than 200 student organizations on campus. And if you’re into politics, you’ve come to the right school; College Democrats, College Republicans and other political associations are very active at Mason. With such a diversity of choices, there’s bound to be something for you.

A full list of these clubs, fraternities and sports teams can be found at

Don’t be shy to talk to people in class, either. You can meet some of the coolest people you’ll ever come across in college through study groups or just walking to and from the classroom. Take the leap and say hi, introduce yourself. The worst thing that can happen is that the other person doesn’t like to talk, and if it works you might have a new friend.

Most other freshmen are just as eager to meet their peers as you are, outer facades notwithstanding. Which brings me to something very important: don’t think you’re alone. You’re not. Among the freshmen I talked to, a recurring theme was, “Everyone else is having so much fun, everyone but me.” Trust me, they’re not. There are some people who are just lucky, make tons of friends right away, and love college from the beginning, but there are many others who are just trying to feel their way around and are way too shy to admit that they don’t know what’s going on.

If your homesickness is severe, or you feel like you’re having a significantly harder time than is normal, don’t be afraid to take advantage of Mason’s counseling services.

According to a 2004 study by the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment, 14.9 percent of college students suffered from depression, a 5 percent spike from the year 2000. College freshmen, on their own for the first time, are particularly vulnerable.

The Mason Counseling Services office, located on the second floor of SUB I, is free, confidential and helpful. There is no shame in making a visit that can help you deal with the new stresses of university life, and seeking out a listener who actually knows what they’re talking about doesn’t make you crazy.

My own freshman year was terrible. I was lonely, uncertain and, I can see now, depressed. At the time, I was too ashamed to go to the counseling office, but now I wish I had. It could have made things a lot easier for me. And this will pass. After my first semester I wanted to leave and never come back, but now I’m a senior who loves this school and has a blast living on campus. It might seem like the world is ending now, but you’re 18 years old and there’s much more to life than what’s happening this moment. Just hang on. It does get better.

And for those of you who are doing well; make the effort to reach out. If you see someone sitting alone at lunch, or have passed by that quiet kid in the dorms who doesn’t seem sure what to say, talk to them. Ask them how they’re doing. Invite them to sit with you. These small things make a big difference to others and could turn you onto some great people.

Who ever got hurt from having one extra friend?