When I tour universities to discuss my memoir about college binge drinking, students often ask me what it's like to socialize without alcohol. And my answer is always the same: It's more fun than a barrel of frat boys...and with a lot less projectile vomiting.
Most of the friendships I forged over beer bottles didn't last beyond graduation day, and anyone who's listened to drunks knows why. Like people on separate mountaintops, straining to hear one another through the mist, my fellow drinkers and I always seemed to be chattering about completely different topics while we screamed to be heard over the stereo. On the other hand, friendships I've made around shared interests are not only far more rewarding, they've stood the test of time.
It can be freaky to leave high school friends and begin afresh at your new U. But meeting people is easier than you think, especially once you redefine the keg party slogans of yore:
RULE #1: Get off your face
Online networks like Facebook can be great social resources, especially if you search your network by favorite "books," "music," and "hobbies." But 900 "friends" means diddly squat if you rarely hang out with them in person. Do yourself a favor: If you spot someone you like, don't "throw a sheep" at her. Instead, try inviting her out when you cross paths on the quad.
RULE #2: Go clubbing
Who knew there were so many students who appreciate Japanese anime? Who flip for tumbling? Write comedy sketches? You might have been the only person in your high school who harbored a private obsession, but on your university's student activities site, you'll find hundreds of other "clubbers" who dig it, too.
RULE #3: Get your party on
It's an election year. What better way to meet like-minded individuals than by joining your local chapter of "Campaign McCain" or registering newbies for "Barack-the-Vote"?
RULE #4: Get off your a**
Dining hall grub isn't to blame for the weight gain known as the "freshman 15." More often, it's binge drinking, combined with the drooly, late-night consumption of fast food hamburgers. Want to tip the scales in your favor? Most universities' gyms stay open until the wee hours on Friday and Saturday nights, where you're guaranteed to meet people who have six-packs that don't come in a case.
RULE #5: Get loud
Bands like the Pixies, Pavement, and Coldplay all met in college. Looking for other musicians-in-the-making? Try creating a Facebook bulletin or posting a flier in your dorm. You can get to know your bandmates at your new school's music department, where you'll find pianos, instrument storage, and all the music instruction you need.
RULE #6: Get some action
Even if you aren't studying film, that doesn't mean you can't shoot one. Many universities rent video equipment. So shoot your own Zombie Bloodbath and post it on YouTube.
RULE #7: Get the word out
If you write for your college paper, you'll get to know a slew of campus kingpins, from administrators to heads of student organizations. You'll also be a veritable social director—abreast of every game, concert, and event when it comes to town. If print news isn't for you, set up your own campus blog. But keep autobiography to a minimum: As a new student, you won't want your peers to know your life's story before they get to know you.
RULE #8: Get loaded
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, college students spend more on alcohol than they spend on soft drinks, tea, milk, juice, coffee, and books combined. Why not pick up a job and fill your wallet instead? In addition to making bank, you're likely to find new friends among your coworkers. Check out online job boards for gigs like nannying, tutoring, and even bartending. It's far more entertaining to watch drunk people than it is to be one.