1. As some have said in other threads, some degree of loneliness away at college is inevitable. In fact, it's natural and probably even healthy. Your parents probably experienced it. Your grandparents probably experienced it. It's a serious challenge to everyone who experiences it, from a health perspective if nothing else. Nobody takes it lightly, as they shouldn't. It's a challenge that has been around since the dawn of time, and it's been discussed in song, literature, and philosophy throughout the ages.
2. Some people don't even realize they're experiencing it. Others embrace it. Some are defeated by it and pack up and return home. A tiny percentage tragically take their own lives. But most everyone eventually learns from it and changes because of it, almost always for the better. Most of the immature pretensions, attitudes, and expectations of youth are usually quickly stripped away by this process of dealing with loneliness. This is kind of like the human race giving a young person an enema. It forces them to re-examine and re-learn who they are, what they want, what they need from others, what others mean to them, and basically how to interact and fit in with the rest of the human race.
3. It's one of the most important life skills that anyone can learn, because it allows you to choose where you want to be, and who you want to be with...which are some of the most important factors determining your life. It allows you to grow outside of the sphere of the influence of your immediate family. In some traditional cultures, young people never stray too far outside the influence of their immediate family, especially women. And all of these cultures struggle economically in the modern world. They pay a very big price for the comfort and emotional security provided by never straying too far from the nest.
4. There are no shortcuts or quick fixes to offer for advice in dealing with loneliness when away from home at college. When people try to offer advice, it always sounds kind of vague, like "join clubs", "get involved", or even "eat right" or "exercise". But as anyone knows, these don't solve the problem overnight. You can be surrounded by other people 24 hours a day and still feel lonely, empty, unloved, unnoticed, and unappreciated inside. Lyrics from old songs say it best: "surrounded by strangers I thought were my friends", "when your friends treat you like a guest", etc. The more people try to offer advice, the more it sounds like stuff from a religious sermon or a self-help book. It's because you've just crossed out of the city limits of things you can do with your hands and feet, and into the realm of your heart and mind. And there is no roadmap there. The real issue is what we could describe as "trusting in unconditional love from your fellow humans"...and that sounds as vague as anything.
But here are 7 of the best bits of advice that I don't see commonly mentioned:
1. One the best pieces of advice I can give is to "triangulate" or connect your college relationships with your family relationships. Some students will have a friend at a college for a year, never really truly feel connected to them, until in one afternoon...that friend meets the other's parents. And a lifelong friend is suddenly born. Or the opposite can occur. I recommend having your parents come visit you at college, ideally spend the night, and meeting some of your friends. I recommend your old high school friends coming to visit you at college and meet your new friends. I recommend you invite some of your college friends to come home for a weekend with you. The more the dots try to get connected, the more relationships start to make or break, and the process of settling in accelerates.
2. Another good piece of advice I can give is to get a pet in your dorm or apartment at college. This is another seemingly mundane move that can have life-changing effects. Some students never really feel at home when they're at college until they suddenly get a cat or dog in their apartment, or their roommate gets a cat or dog. They're something about the unconditional love that many people have with pets that changes them.
3. Another good piece of advice I can give is to engage in opportunities to work together with others in any capacity or any form: not just a part-time job, or a study group, or a sports team, but even just studying together with someone for a test, planning a party in your dorm room with your roommate, even planning a day trip with your friends. It's the planning and the working together themselves that are the truly valuable parts. Even if there are few end-products of your efforts. There's something about the process of working together with others that naturally builds real trust and respect among the people involved. And those are the fundamental blocks of any real relationship: trust and respect.
4. Another good piece of advice, and an obvious one, is to "break bread" with others. Most every freshman dorm in America has a mass exodus of students to the nearest cafeteria at dinnertime; it's a tradition in our society to eat the main meal of the day in the company of others. But you'd be surprised how many college students are eating alone, not just 1 or 2 but sometimes 3 meals a day. Many college students structure their schedule so that they eat alone, because it's quicker or easier. But there's something about eating together that connects people. It's not just the process of cycling through energy depletion to energy rejuvenation and back again. There is an inherently social dynamic to the eating process, that probably started millions of years ago when packs of animals fed their family members and fended off scavengers together. Nobody really understands why it connects people, but it does.
5. Another good piece of advice is to continually re-shape the living environment around you. Every kid decorates his dorm room when he first arrives, some more than others, women usually more than men. Everyone sweeps the floors once a week and slaps up a new poster on the wall once a semester. But there's something about the process of continually manipuating one's living environment that makes one feel more settled, comfortable, and connected. Some dorms or apartments allow the students to paint the walls or do other minor home improvement jobs. Many students never really feel settled at college until they've put a lot of "sweat equity" into wherever they're living.
6. Another good piece of advice is to continually learn more and more about the history, traditions, attractions, geology, climate, or sports teams of your college and its town/city/region. A lot of students may learn about their college when they're first choosing to apply to it, or right after they're accepted, or right before they move in. It sounds corny or pointless. Many aspects may seem boring or undistinguished on the surface. But the more and more you learn about its uniqueness, the more it means something to you, and the more connected and settled you feel about where you are.
7. Another good piece of advice I can give is to pray. I'm not necessarily talking about attending a religious service, converting to a religion, or joining a religious group, all of which tend to come with heavy baggage and ramifications, family and otherwise. I'm talking about praying, which is free, and can be done anywhere, at any time, for any member of any religious creed. Many people have never prayed and don't know how. Others just simply don't want to or wouldn't feel comfortable. Even many people who have been raised in families with religious affiliations and who attend services periodically have little experience praying on their own. Even though praying has existed in every society since the dawn of man, nobody has ever clearly understood why or how it seems to make such a difference in people's lives. But it does. Maybe praying builds trust, a key component in relationships. Maybe it builds humility. Maybe compassion. Maybe all of the above. Like the old stories and evangelists will all tell you, praying alone usually changes people's lives.