How to Manage Peer Pressure When Going Away to College

Whether you’re about to start your freshman year, or you’re heading off to do your first semester of on-campus classes, making new friends in a new environment is no easy task. When you’re searching for “your place” in the college world, other people’s approval feels even more important than it used to. What if you don’t go to that party? Will any of those people invite you out ever again? What if you don’t feel like drinking? Will everyone write you off as “lame” or “no fun”? What if you don’t feel like having sex? Will the guy you’ve been seeing tell everyone you’re weird or prudish? It’s tempting to just behave however you think your new “friends” want you to, in hopes that they stick around. But are they really your friends if they don’t know the real you?

How to Handle Peer Pressure

What Is Peer Pressure

Peer pressure is when you feel influenced to make a decision based on what you perceive to be the expectations of your friend group or social norms. This can look like one of your friends handing you a beer without asking you if you want it. Or it can look like you thinking, “I really need to hit the gym, because all the influencers on TikTok are ripped.” In person or through social media, the pressure to measure up to expectations can be overwhelming.

It’s important to note that there can be incidents of positive peer pressure. If, for instance, you follow a lot of mental health professionals on social media, you may feel like the current social norm is taking good care of mental health. That’s a positive influence. On the other hand, peer pressure is famously linked to participation in risky behaviors like using drugs and alcohol just because “that’s what everyone in college does.” When your choices are being influenced from every direction, how do you handle peer pressure as a college student?

10 Ways to Handle Peer Pressure

1. Know yourself. You usually feel peer pressure when the social norm or your friend’s behaviors are at odds with your own values. If it makes you uncomfortable to “just hang out” at a party where something illegal is going on in the next room, that’s because you don’t want to be associated with that activity. Before you’re in that situation, think through what your values are. What’s important to you? What do you need in order to be your best? What experiences do you want to have or to avoid in order to make sure you’re being true to yourself? It’s important to prepare yourself to make tough decisions so that you don’t end up just “going with the flow” or blindly following your friends.

2. Establish clear boundaries and don’t ignore red flags. The early days of a new friendship can be a blast as you discover all the things you have in common with each other. After a while though, make sure that the friendship develops into a healthy one. Do you feel drained after hanging out or recharged? Do you feel safe and comfortable saying “no” to this person? Do you feel that they respect your time and your feelings? Make it clear from the get-go that you have your own wants and needs, and if you find that difficult to do in a particular friendship, reconsider whether or not that person is good friend material.

3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you’ve made friends in your dorm, that’s great! But don’t stop there. Stay open to friendships in other areas of your life too. If you start friendships in the dorm, in film club, and in bio lab, you won’t have to worry about ending up “friendless” when you’re making a hard choice between being true to yourself or continuing to hang out with one friend group. If, however, all your friend groups are pretty healthy, you’ll just have lots of good friends! Who wouldn’t love that?

4. Choose settings that align with who you are. What activities do you love? If you were on the soccer team in high school, consider checking out your campus intramural sports teams. If you love to paint, take an art class. If your faith is important to you, see if there are any student groups that represent your religion or denomination. Once you’re there, the making friends part is up to you.

5. Choose settings that align with who you want to be. College is a place of preparation. Even if you’re not sure what to study or haven’t figured out what to do after graduation, try thinking about the kind of person you want to be. If you want to be a person who helps others, consider joining a campus club that volunteers for local charities. If you want to be an athletic person, join the rowing team or a running club. If you don’t want to be a person who makes others feel bad, and your art department friends are all mean people, consider hanging out with them less. The more you hang around people who exhibit characteristics you don’t want to have, the more likely you are to become someone you don’t want to be.

6. Cultivate a relationship with yourself. Spend time alone from time to time. Do something you enjoy like listening to music, sketching, journaling, exploring a new part of town, or hanging out at a good coffee shop. Protecting your alone time is a great way to give yourself space to reflect on how your life’s going and decide to make adjustments when necessary. If you spend every waking minute with your friends or working, you won’t have much time to notice your true feelings.

7. Remember why you’re here. College can be a place where you make lifelong friends, but you can do that anywhere. The reason you are in college is to receive an education and degree. Of course, it’ll be more fun to be a successful student with friends to hang out with along the way, but if you run into a friend group that doesn’t feel right or you have to choose between your friends and being true to yourself, it’s important to remember that your purpose here is to study. You can find friends outside of college if the right people don’t seem to be around.

8. Don’t isolate yourself. When you’re experiencing peer pressure, it might feel like the only way to protect yourself is to simply have no peers to pressure you. Keeping to yourself and having nobody to go to isn’t healthy either. Talk to trustworthy people about your struggles, whether those are old friends, family members, or professionals.

9. Seek professional support. Coping with peer pressure on top of your classes and, you know, life in general, can feel impossible. In fact, peer pressure is one of the leading causes of anxiety in college students. Seeing a counselor or talking to a therapist can help you sort through all the overwhelming feelings and decisions you face as a student, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

10. Remind yourself of how God sees you. In Christ you are a trusted and valuable friend who deserves grace and forgiveness when you make mistakes. Let that sink in. Let that help you feel secure in the face of peer pressure.

You Don’t Have to Earn Acceptance

In Christ’s love, you can feel safe and secure, loved and accepted, at peace and full of hope. With His abiding love behind you, there is no social situation that can shake your identity. You don’t have to be afraid that choosing to be yourself will cost you your friends and reputation. If you need someone to talk to about a peer pressure situation, or if you want to know more about God’s acceptance, chat with a Hope Coach today. We’re always here to listen without judgment and help you know that you’re never alone.

Are you feeling frustrated about how much your friend calls, texts, and leans on you during a hard time? If so, here's what to do if a friendship makes you feel drained.

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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