Why Making Friends Online is Just Like Kindergarten

By Alyssa Schmid

Do you remember what it was like to make friendships in kindergarten? It just seemed to flow from introductions into instant bonds. However, once you become an adult, friendships are tricky to make no matter the setting. Whether it’s at work, school, or while chatting with the grocery store clerk, it can be hard to jump from a friendly interaction into a meaningful relationship. But in the post-covid world, it can seem even harder if you spend most of your social time online.

After experiencing both in-person and online school – there are major differences in how you connect with people. If you’re like me, you might be struggling to adapt because your strategies for making friends were based on passive interactions. Situations like walking with a group after class to the cafeteria while plucking up the courage to say one joke for instance. Now that so many interactions have shifted online, familiar strategies aren’t cutting it anymore. But that is ok! Think back to how you might have made friends in kindergarten. I am guessing that it might have included introducing yourself and then immediately asking if they wanted to be friends. Often, we stop taking initiative once we grow up – especially when the only classmates you have are faceless names on a discussion board. What if we recaptured the spark of our younger selves and made the first move? Although it might be scary, the risk could make your collage experience much more enjoyable.   

During the last couple of years we all have adapted and gained new skills to stay afloat. Be proud that you are here and have come this far! This is just one more step in that growth process. 

The 3 Types of Friendships

The first step to making new friends actually starts with self-reflection. What type of friendship do you want? What qualities do you want in a friend? What sort of interactions are you hoping for? Once you know what you are looking for, you can identify which friend type you need. Don’t worry, you can have different types of friends in different settings too.

 A study by Austen Anderson and Blaine Fowers describes the three types of friendship that were originally theorized by Aristotle. 

The “I’ll Scratch Your Back if You Scratch Mine” Friend

The first type is based on how beneficial the friendship is to both people. Think of the friend who has a truck when you need help moving. Or the friend who gives you pep talks when you’re feeling down. It’s ok to have friendships that are based around mutual help and support. Maybe you don’t share your deepest feelings, but these friendships are still valid. 

If you are looking for this type of friend in online school, the best setting is a digital study group. 

The “Here for a Good Time” Friend

This type of friendship is rooted in having fun together. These interactions are usually based off common interest. The study found that friendships made in college are largely this type. Exploring fun activities with others can make your college experience exciting and memorable. It’s also a great time to discover more about yourself and your identity. These friendships are typically glued together by the enjoyable activities or company, so know that you might grow apart as your interests or priorities change. With that in mind, you can enjoy the relationship as it is now without worrying about how to take it to the next level. Thankfully, these are probably the easiest friends to make! Look for these friends in places that you also enjoy. Some schools have online webinars on interesting subjects, or you can join a digital club!

The “You’re My Kind of People” Friend

These are the kinds of friendships that will last a lifetime. This type is based on core beliefs that you share or respect in each other. You will stick together even when you don’t get anything out of supporting them. The backbone of this friendship are traits like caring, understanding, selflessness. The reward is a lifetime of memories and connection. These friendships take time to build since you have to find people who share these values. A great place to start looking is actually in the places where you have fun-based friends since you will want a lifelong friend that you enjoy spending time with. 

Ideas for Online Friendship Building Opportunities

Form a Digital Study Group

Sometimes teachers will create small groups automatically in the class structure. If this is the case, maybe ask if you can do these discussions over zoom. Otherwise, utilize the tools your school uses like canvas, slack, or blackboard messaging to connect with your class. Sending out a message suggesting the idea of a study group can be a simple way to start building community. This is especially valuable if the class is in your major and you will potentially see these people in future classes! Make sure to get permission from your instructor first and see what group study activities they accept. 

Create an Online Club 

With the rise of online education, there is abundant opportunity to connect via digital clubs. Clubs are a great tool to meet likeminded people and people with similar interests. The beauty of a club is that it can be on any subject! Book clubs, major clubs, art clubs, or lifestyle and culture clubs – the options are limitless! Get started by emailing your dean and ask to send out an email announcement. Chances are your school is looking for ways to increase online student satisfaction and can be a great ally.  

Get Involved Locally 

Even if you don’t have a campus community to connect with, you can get connected with people in your local community. A quick internet search can reveal clubs or volunteer opportunities related to your major. Getting involved with local groups can create relationships that can support you long after you graduate and start working in your field. 

Be a Good Friend

The first step to having the friends we want is to embody those characteristics ourselves. Traits like being kind, listening, and appreciating people’s perspectives and talents will set you up for healthy friendships down the road. The truer we are to ourselves, the more likely we will find people who share those values.


Anderson, A. R., & Fowers, B. J. (2020). An exploratory study of friendship characteristics and their relations with hedonic and eudaimonic well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37(1), 260–280. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407519861152

About the Author

Alyssa Schmid is a freelance writer working on finishing a double degree in horticulture and sustainability at Oregon State University. She deeply loves traveling, baking, gardening, and researching sustainable fashion brands.

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