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An Introvert’s Guide to the College Search


The prospect of beginning college is likely to stimulate a mixture of thoughts and emotional responses in any high school student. It is possible to have feelings of enthusiasm, excitement, hope, anxiety, and fear all at once when daydreaming about stepping onto campus as a freshman. How about dread? For some, all of the wonderful things about going to college might be tempered by some very real, but misunderstood social needs, particularly those who might self-identify as introverted.

For too long societal norms have created a sense of shame for the up-to half of us that fall on the introverted side of the spectrum. But there is a revolution happening; a quiet revolution, that is. In this past decade, Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” has initiated some popular understanding of what introversion is and means, and importantly, what it isn’t.

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You want friends, you want to socialize and have fun, you want recognition from your teachers and your peers. You may need these things on your own terms, however. That’s okay. You are not anti-social—far from it! You might just need to socialize in smaller doses and then take some time to recover.

How do you choose the right college to meet your needs as a self-respecting introvert? (Hint): there are no colleges for introverts, and even if there were, would attending there be the right course of action? (Hint, hint): the world beyond college is not designed this way. Instead, let’s examine some key components of what to look for in choosing a good fit college and how to thrive when you get there.

Large or small?

One of the first questions families will ask when sizing up colleges for introverted students is about size. You might think small, and that might be the right fit, but consider that with all the daily social interactions, it would actually be easier to be able to be anonymous to the degree you choose at larger school. Susan Cain addressed this in answer to a question on her website:

The most important factor in selecting the right college is finding the place where you can find your tribe. I think this matters much more than school size or location. Culture is everything. That said, anonymity can be a blessed thing, after the fishbowl nature of most high schools. So don’t automatically assume that a large school is the wrong environment for an introvert. It might give him just the breathing room and excitement he needs to go forth and find his people—and his passions.

Offering another take, a junior at Princeton, Julia (self-described introvert) said the following in an interview:

When I was applying to different colleges I pretty much was solely looking at small liberal arts colleges in rural areas. I thought that going to a smaller school would definitely suit my temperament in a lot of ways. I thought there would kind of be a naturally built-in, close-knit community, so that was very attractive to me.

After deciding on Princeton, however, she concluded:

I think that a mid­sized school in kind of a small town is almost the ideal environment for an introvert, because you have access to a lot of smaller communities. I think it's also really nice how you can sort of maintain a sense of anonymity.

Bottom line is that a certain size and location might contribute to the sense of harmony, combined with learning, fun and exploration, that you may seek.

Common themes

Below are resources listed to help aid in an exploration of colleges and life on campus as an introvert. First, let’s look at some of the themes that emerge from these many sources for both looking and attending.

When looking

  • Clubs and Organizations that meet your interests?

  • Dining Hall options that suit your fancy?

  • Dorm Room situations – changes after freshman year?

    • How are roommates chosen/assigned?

  • Libraries and other study nooks – what are the options?

  • Class sizes; classroom setups; lecture hall feel?

    • Lecture vs. discussion-based classes? Other options (online, hybrid)?

  • Professors and advisors – accessibility?

  • Exercise options – fitness center set-up? Outdoor options?

  • Counseling services? Student Mentors?

One college dean recommends strongly considering not attending too far from home.

When attending

  • Attend Welcome Week activities

  • Join a select few clubs or organization

    • Choose activities that require more activity and less small-talk time

    • Seek some targeted extrovert activity for needed bursts

  • Attend sporting events (not necessarily the Big Game)

  • Make a Major friend or two (or three)

    • Quality, not quantity

  • Find a friend with similar work ethic/study habits

  • Identify dining hall buddies to go eat with

  • Choose roommate carefully

    • Noise-cancelling headphones

  • Choose strategic seat in classroom (near the front)

  • Prepare ahead for class participation

  • Go to office hours (good advice for anyone)

    • Building a rapport will help you build confidence in contributing in class

  • Interact with faculty and staff in person as much as possible

  • Mix in an online class to keep overall experience manageable, fulfilling

  • Look for quiet spaces

    • Every college has a library with a floor for silent study – use to your advantage

  • Manage time effectively – build in time for recharge

  • Find (safe) outdoor/off-campus places for walks/hikes/runs

  • Find a balance – you need to recharge but you also need to socialize; don’t shut yourself in

  • Advocate for yourself – ask roommates and others for compromises in terms of quiet

    • Set boundaries (and expectations)

  • Seek out likeminded people – there are plenty of them

  • Seek counseling when feeling lonely

  • Forget FOMO – with so much opportunity, no one can do it all; you are making choices just like anyone else. Know thyself and choose accordingly

  • Challenge yourself to go outside of your comfort zone – think growth (good advice for anyone)

Good advice from Julia the junior again:

Many freshmen feel a lot of pressure at the beginning to always be surrounding themselves with people because everyone is super concerned about making friends, especially at the beginning and it’s important to remember that you will be able to develop meaningful relationships throughout college and not just at the very beginning. There isn't a timeline on it. And that also your conversations with people will be better if you're more energized, which can only happen if you make sure you have that time to yourself.

Make it great

College, as much as anything else, is a place to exchange ideas and challenge popular notions. As an introverted college student, make it your business to challenge the notion of extroversion as the standard. College is also an opportunity to start fresh, so take advantage. Yes, you deserve respect and society should not hold extroversion as the standard for all to aspire to. Meet society halfway though – for you own sake.

Resource List



Introvert Survival Guide to College

How to Develop Social Skills as an Introvert

Surviving College as an Introvert

The Introvert’s Guide to Networking

Introverts, College, and the Mind

Being an Introvert is a Good Thing

Finding Your Voice in an Extroverted Society




“Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain

“The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World” by Sophia Dembling

“The Introvert’s Complete Career Guide: From Landing a Job, to Surviving, Thriving, and Moving on Up” by Jane Finkle

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