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Most of us can be introvert-ish, at least sometimes. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, 25 percent of students who responded identified as full-on introverts, and an additional 53 percent said they can feel introverted, depending on the context. Many of us have a mix of extrovert and introvert traits—the technical term is ambivert—according to psychologists. “The false introvert/extrovert dichotomy is a limiting narrative to which I do not restrict myself. No offense,” says Heather L., a third-year undergraduate at Hofstra University, New York. (None taken.)
Whether you are full or part introvert, college provides you with an opportunity to focus on your own introvert-ish goals and strengths and use them to your advantage. “In college, you are freer to chart your own course. You can finally do things your own way. Rejoice in this fact!” writes Susan Cain in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Random House, 2012). “Find your passions, your niche, your friends, your style of social life. Take courses you adore. Select professors who mean a lot to you, and give yourself a little push to approach them outside of class. It’s worth it!”
Quiz: What is an introvert, and are you it?
Find your place on the introvert-extrovert spectrum
Someone says “You think too much“
Thoughtfulness. You tend not to act on impulse. It’s rare that you do stuff you don’t remember later (or that you wish you didn’t remember).
“It may seem like [introverts] are being antisocial, but trust me, they aren’t. Never make comments like ‘Wow, you’re really quiet’ or ‘You need to get more involved.’ Politely ask them if they want to join in—they will be ecstatic you asked—but don’t force them.”
—Name withheld, first-year undergraduate, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
Tips to craft a credible comeback
- Hey, think about it for a while. You’re on trend: Mindfulness is in.
- Say: “I’m paying attention. There isn’t someone in the world that I can’t learn something from.”
- Or: “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open” (Frank Zappa, multi-genre musician).
- Or: “It’s my precaution against foot-in-mouth disease.”
“The ‘fake it till you make it’ mantra can actually be more helpful than most people might think.”
—Tyler M., fifth-year undergraduate, Indiana University Southeast
“My best strategy for situations outside my comfort zone is to participate in them; overcoming my fear of riding a roller coaster, trying different foods, things of that nature. If it’s something that I know [might] cause physical harm to me or others, such as smoking or drinking, I won’t participate, even if I see a lot of people doing it at a party or event.”
—Vera G., second-year undergraduate, Wayne State University, Michigan
There’s no escaping the group project
Patience. Delayed gratification is a crucial life skill. You may already be pretty good at finishing homework before you turn to Netflix and gracefully handling the complications that others lay before you.
“Ask someone to please explain their view rather than jumping right in with a counterargument. Take three deep breaths with each exhale longer than the last. That turns my anxiety into courage.”
—Jennifer S., recent graduate, Collin County Community College, Texas
How to get grit and grace in groups
- Brainstorm solo before meeting up with the crew.
- Write out thoughts that are difficult to present in person, and send your group
- You’re good at thoughtful feedback. Starting with a compliment validates your
peers’ work and makes them more open when you then state a need.
- Set parameters (e.g., meet in a reserved library room or someone’s apartment for whatever duration you can tolerate). Let everyone know you will need to leave at a specific time for your next obligation.
- Offer to present the part you are most passionate about and use your prep powers
to nail it in front of the class.
“If I weren’t visually impaired I would be an extrovert. I hate group projects; I’ve learned to deal with them though. I always have to explain myself to the group. People think I am dead weight, but I’m usually the one to pull the group together and the one who does the most work.”
—Caitlin W., fourth-year undergraduate, Northern Illinois University
“After a meeting or event, I would maybe approach the leadership [or team] about ways that we could make the situation more inclusive of introverted personalities. I find that most people are usually understanding of this and make appropriate changes.”
—Tyler F., fourth-year undergraduate, Tulane University, Louisiana
Life is sending you to a networking event
Self-monitoring. You may be skilled in identifying and responding to social cues such as body language and tone of voice.
“I immerse myself in situations that force me to be extroverted. This has been extremely helpful and I think has evoked the best in me.”
—Jack A., fourth-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Colorado
How to mingle meaningfully
- Think of this as “human connection” rather than “networking.”
- Ahead of time, identify two or three people who you want to connect with. At the event, ask for their contact information and/or give them yours. Make notes on their business cards so you remember who’s who. Follow up by email within a week.
- Use your listening skills, ask insightful questions, and absorb the vision of the company or the research interests of a professor or graduate student.
- Offer to meet and chat over a shared interest—one that doesn’t actually let you chat that much. Watch a sports game or show. Go for a jog together.
“I have a list of go-to questions to get other people talking about themselves.”
—Chris L., fourth-year graduate student, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“If it’s a meeting with a new employer, I give myself a pep talk and make a strategy, and I set small sequential goals in order to get through it without hitches.”
—Jessica S, second-year student, John Tyler Community College, Virginia
“I seem to have a talent for understanding people’s ways, viewpoints, and lifestyles even if they are not similar to mine. I know how to meet people in the middle, rather than sticking to the comforting norm for me.”
—Kendra B., third-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
You’re feeling the pressure to party
Sensitivity to art and music. This gives you credibility when steering others towards the movie, play, or concert of your choice.
“I do not have to be the life of the party in order to be equally present.”
—Moira P., fourth-year undergraduate, Park University, Missouri
How to customize your social scene
- Plan to go for a limited time or offer to ride with/take someone who also wants to bounce out early or who has plans after.
- Pregame with a funny video clip or TV show to nourish your social energy.
- Offer to celebrate one-on-one (e.g., “Let me take you out for a birthday latte and hear about your weekend”).
- Let your friends know that you enjoy spending time with them in doses, you appreciate the invite, and you unwind in your own way.
- The old standby: “I have plans.” (A Netflix binge by yourself.)
- Exit strategy: Fake an urgent call. Try an app such as Call Me Please, Call Me, or Fake a Call Free.
“I try to focus on what I can add to the situation and the needs of those around me. I do things like pick up trash, refill drinks, and be the good listener that someone might need. That usually eases the discomfort and I do not have to talk as much.”
—Rachel B., graduate student, University of Kansas
“When in doubt with an introvert, approach them first. Maybe they want to talk with you but aren’t sure how to engage.”
—Murphy M., fifth-year undergraduate, Northern Illinois University
“Bringing along an item I can busy my brain with, such as crossword puzzles or a Rubik’s Cube, helps put me back into a world where I’m comfortable.”
—Cameron S., third-year undergraduate, Utah State University
It’s your turn to present in class
Concentration and hyper-focus. Your slides will be awesome. You tend to finish what you start, unlike the rest of—
“I challenge myself to find something to enjoy in the situation or focus on being really good at a small aspect [of it].”
—Kelly H., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Tips to talk it up in public
- To launch confidently into the project, talk through the requirements privately with the professor.
- Practice alone or with one other person. To get away with talking out loud in a public space, wear an earpiece as if you’re making a call.
- Arrive ahead of time. Make sure your slides are working smoothly, and practice standing comfortably in front of your soon-to-be audience.
- Step out from behind the podium and your notes. Use note cards only for key words to jog your memory.
- Look above people’s eyes instead of directly at their eyes. Then, when you’re ready, ease into eye contact. Or try the “figure eight” method: Your gaze traces an eight on its side, like the infinity symbol.
“[I practice] mental meditation, pre-event. Sort of storing up energy.”
—Ryan C., second-year undergraduate, Red Rocks Community College, Colorado
“I rehearse what I’m going to say. Then [when talking publicly]
I pretend that I’m alone.”
—Alex C.*, third-year undergraduate, University of California, Los Angeles (*Name changed)
“Giving a class presentation might be a time when you should plan time for yourself after.”
—Kristina M., third-year undergraduate, University of New Mexico
The campus environment is way too stimulating
Listening. When you find someone who’s worth it (a friend, a lecturer), you’re the best.
“As a leader on my campus I am very enthusiastic and inviting, and sometimes introverts are frightened by that. So I need to remember to take it a notch down and get to know them. Instead of getting them to do what I’m doing, I plan events targeted to their interests.”
—Michael S., third-year undergraduate, Oregon Institute of Technology
How to find downtime amid the drama
- Use headphones and books to signal that you’re not available for chitchat.
- Target several quiet nooks on campus for working, reading, and alone time.
- Put a sign on your door: on one side, “Studying/working do not disturb”; on the other, “Come on in” for when you’re feeling social.
- See where the people are (and are not): The app Cloak allows you to find or avoid people, based on their collective social media activity, so you can meet someone nearby for coffee while avoiding that group of gossipy classmates.
- The app Headspace offers meditation and mental escape. Emma Watson, a self-proclaimed introvert, tweeted that this app is “kind of genius.”
iOS & Android App
“I recharge by spending time alone or with my close friends. This keeps me grounded when I feel like I cannot take another moment of being around people. I also find that listening to music on campus helps me feel less like part of the larger group. This, along with time in the library, helps to keep me calm in a sea of people.”
—Dawn L., third-year undergraduate, Missouri University of Science and Technology
“I try to reframe difficult situations as if they were familiar. For example, when I studied abroad, I quickly found some favorite places and new routines that gave me strength to deal with the unexpected.”
—Sarah H., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Wisconsin-Madison