What to Do if You Don't Fit In at College

These tips can help you determine if it's a long- or short-term issue and how to handle it.

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When applying to college, many students are told to focus on "fit." After all, a school that's ranked highly may not be the best school for you if the fit isn't right. So what happens if you realize—a month or two into college—that you just don't seem to fit in?

First and foremost, know that you're not alone—even if no one else is talking about feeling out of place. Adjusting to college and feeling like you belong is a difficult process that takes a lot of time and effort. Just because everyone else seems not to be struggling with issues of fitting in doesn't mean they aren't doing so internally.

[Learn how to use the U.S. News college rankings wisely.]

The best approach to dealing with issues of feeling like you don't belong at your college is to be honest with yourself. It will take a little time and some self-reflection on your part, but that's why you're in college, right? Here are some questions to ask yourself:

How does the fit feel socially? Take some time to consider how you feel socially on your campus. Do you feel like you've found your niche? Like you belong to a community? Like there are people on campus who share your beliefs and interests? Does the school's culture support the kind of college life you'd like to have over the next several years? Is it healthy and positive, or negative and competitive?

If you find yourself feeling like you don't belong, try to gauge where that mismatch is coming from. Are there cultural clubs, academic organizations, or community groups you could join—and yes, you can still join a new club any time in the semester!—that might help you feel like you fit in better? Or are those totally lacking on your campus?

Are you fitting in academically? Feeling like you don't fit in academically can sometimes be overwhelming. You may feel like your high school didn't prepare you well enough for the workload, or that you'd already covered much of what you're learning back in high school. Either way, not feeling comfortable in the classroom can throw the rest of your college experience off balance.

[Read about how to define the "best" in colleges.]

Similar to the social fit of your campus, the academic fit warrants some reflection. Is this a short-term problem that might be fixed by taking different classes next semester? Or is it a self-confidence issue where you don't feel as smart as your peers? (If that's the case, know that you are!) Or is it a legitimate mismatch where you don't like the way class discussions are facilitated or you feel like ideas are stifled in the classrooms on campus?

College success happens when the academics of an institution totally blow your mind, and the social aspect of college life helps you learn and grow into a new, amazing person. When one of these aspects is off and you feel like you just don't fit in, your entire college life suffers.

Consequently, fit comes in all kinds of forms and you owe it to yourself to see what your individual fit looks like. If it's short term and something that can be changed with, say, your co-curricular involvement or adding or dropping a class, then consider your initial feelings of not fitting in as something that can be changed with time. If, however, things seem more long term and you can't imagine learning and growing in your current environment, than a conversation with your academic adviser, dean of students, and family are in order. Long-term issues of fit are sometimes best changed with a new place.

[Read about 5 emotional factors to avoid when choosing a college.]

Are you not sure if you fit in at your current school? Did you definitely not fit in at your last one? Or did you think you didn't fit in at first but then came to realize your school was, in fact, the perfect place for you? Share your experience and advice with other readers in the comments.


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