Reach Out and Say Yes: Making Friends as Graduate Students

Written by Alexis Guzman and Louis Nguyen | July 1, 2024

Advice from Alexis

Starting college in 2018 began with the mentality of “get in and get out.” I did not prioritize friendships, connections, or networks. For a while, this seemed okay; it seemed exactly what would get me to finish my undergraduate degree in four years. However, once those four years were up, I quickly realized that the experience I gave myself was not an experience I wish I would have had. Leaving a school with no friendships left me feeling lonely, and as I decided to further my education as a graduate student, I decided to change my mindset and create a new experience for myself. 

As I write this now, I still struggle with making friends and forming connections, though I will give myself credit for my work towards prioritizing opportunities to make new friends. The mindset I changed to was “say yes.” 

I said yes when I questioned attending events or signing up for job opportunities. I said yes to people around me when they asked me to go out for something as small as a coffee. I just continued to say yes, and it got me to two on-campus jobs and awesome people I am building connections with. 

So, as someone who knows first-hand the hardships of putting yourself out there to make new friends, take my advice. Say yes!

Advice from Louis

Making friends in graduate school is definitely tough. I’m only taking two classes, and they’re both three-hour lectures in the evening once a week, so I’m barely even on campus, which makes me feel a bit disconnected from what’s going on at USC. My program is a little too large and a little too homogenous, which is even worse when I don’t have the same shared experience as everyone nor do I speak the same language. To explore my options, I stumbled into Involvement Fair. Seeing the smiling sales pitches quickly turning into the monotonous “oh… we don’t take grad students… sorry…” was actually a bit amusing. It was tempting to stop trying after this string of exclusion, especially because I’ve been in LA for so long before this, so I have my friends. But I was determined to fix my situation because I’m not paying this much tuition money to be a fly on the wall.

Unsurprisingly, the friends that I’ve made were just from me signing up for things and actually showing up to them. I tried all avenues. I went to my professors’ office hours and asked them if they knew anyone who’s like a little my vibe. He said yes and showed me her LinkedIn. After connecting there, we found out that we grew up in the same city in Vietnam. So we made plans to hang out, and now she’s a great friend. 

I also signed up for extracurricular programs like the Annenberg Agency, and got an email from another fellow Viet saying “we have the same last name, let’s get coffee.” I went to a couple mixers and did that whole IG mutuals, to story-reacting, to “let’s get dinner” pipeline. I kinda realized that everybody’s struggling to make friends a little bit! Not saying that I’m some sort of friendship wizard, but having a list of things you can try is always helpful.

From our experience navigating this weird little thing named Grad-Students-Friendships, here’s a list of takeaways:

  1. Sign up, show up, get involved!
  • Alexis: Check out social media. Almost every club or organization on campus has an Instagram or TikTok page. Do some research and find a page you like. Go to the involvement fair and set a goal for yourself. Tell yourself you will sign up for at least five things even if you do not follow through. Signing up usually means you input your email and are sent information. There’s no negative part of that! 
  • Louis: If you don’t want to find yourself constantly trying to make small talk with eighteen year-olds, you should also check out the GSG website as well as the events page of your school or any other schools. There are always events specifically for graduate students. Clubs that take grad students are elusive, but they do exist, so sign up! And also, if you have any hobbies, chances are, there’s a group for that at USC: join the choir, go to the songwriter forum’s open mic night, play a sport! Also, apply to student jobs! Extra spending money and the immeasurable wealth of friendships await. 
  1. Be open, be consistent:
  • Alexis: Set goals for yourself. In the same way as the involvement fair, tell yourself you will talk to two people a day whether that is just a question about where something is or saying you like their shoes. Small talk could spark something big. Remember, everyone is trying to make connections and network. We are all in grad school to seek a sort of higher level of experience. 
  • Louis: Connections will come naturally when you put yourselves in approachable positions. In other words, be a regular somewhere! Take your laptop and do work somewhere visible.The grad student lounge is a great place to just hang out. Show up to things consistently and chat around! “Hey I see you here like all the time! What’s up! I like your sweater!” Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
  1. Initiate and follow up:
  • Alexis: USC is HUGE! From alumni to first-year students, there is an immense amount of people and stories you can hear, so get to listening! Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you see someone in USC merchandise, see if they have a story behind that sweatshirt. Maybe they are students, and you just met your new lunch buddy!

Louis: Los Angeles is the Headquarter of the Saying-Let’s-Hang-Out-And-Never-Following-Up Corporation. The thing is though… that does not need to apply to you. Exchanging Instagram or LinkedIn means nothing if there’s no follow up. Don’t be too pushy of course, but no one minds a simple “Hey nice meeting you at (Insert Event)! You seem cool. Would love to hang sometimes, are you free Monday afternoon?” If that annoys them, they’re a loser and you should move on to the next person.