How to Start Dating in College

It doesn’t matter how popular you were in high school. Dating in college is a different game entirely. In high school, dating is constrained by curfews, limited activity options, and a dating pool that likely didn’t extend outside of your high school. Not so at college. You make your own time, and the availability of both activities and people expands.

That doesn’t mean that dating in college is easy. It can be tough to put yourself out there, and sticky situations definitely exist. We’ve put together a step by step guide to make things run a little more smoothly. 

Girl Studying in a Library

First: Be Realistic About Relationships

The cliché about college is that you’re supposed to sow your wild oats in college—that is, date casually and often in your college years before eventually settling down, getting married, and having kids. The second half of that plan (marriage and kids) is less relevant and societally expected than it used to be, but the first half is still worthwhile.

There’s merit in not settling down too quickly. Even if you’ve started to fall for someone immediately—and be wary of that; make sure you’re falling for the person and not idealized projections of who you’d like them to be—college is a time of growth and change. As the belief systems you had in high school are challenged, they become more nuanced. Sometimes they even do a complete 180. You may not be the person you were in your first year once you reach your fourth year.

Don’t put aside your feelings if you meet someone you really like, but give things time before settling down. It doesn’t mean you have to go wild meeting new people. Just be certain before you commit. Taking it slow reduces the chance of hurt feelings on either side, and it teaches you patience—a skill plenty of us don’t have in our college years.

How To Meet New People

College can be a major change of pace for some people. While in high school you’d go home or to practice right after classes let out, but your options are wide open at college. That makes it much easier to meet new people, as you can hang around on campus with your friends, study in a coffee shop, or join a sorority or frat—all scenarios that make it much easier to meet people, and will often provide you with the wingman you need to make things easier.

There will also be parties—plenty of them. Don’t feel obligated to show up at every party you hear about, but stop by, even if you’re not an extrovert. You’re in an atmosphere where a quarter of the people you meet will be new in town, so they might not know many people, either. Go ahead and strike up a conversation.

Avoid stock pick-up lines that a person may have heard ten times since they arrived. Introducing yourself might be enough to start a conversation. It may be hard to get too deep over the party din, but you can at least exchange phone numbers.

Crushing On Classmates

It’s more than likely that somewhere along the line you’ll take notice of someone you share a class with. This is an excellent way to meet people; you’ll have the built in conversation starters of exams, majors, and the professor’s quirks to talk about. But meeting someone in class has its pitfalls.

Meeting someone you click with in class right away is awesome…until you split up, or discover they’ve already got a significant other. You’ll be seeing them two to three times a week for the rest of the semester, and that could be awkward.. If you’re able to patient, wait until the second half of the semester—or even better, the last day!—to ask them out.

Here’s another wrinkle: some people still wait two to three days before texting someone new. But if you’ve exchanged numbers with a classmate, you’re likely to see them before that window of time, which may or may not be an issue. It’s up to you to play this by ear. Do you text before the next class, or go with the standard couple of days and play it cool—but friendly—when you see them in class?

It’s a variable you may not know how to navigate. Don’t put it off for too long, but you can wait to see if they text first, then follow their lead. If they don’t text before the next class, say a casual hello, then wait until later that evening or the following day before sending that first text.

Apps Could Be Where It’s At

While there are plenty of chances for IRL meetings, you may be taking your studies so seriously that you need an assist. Consider checking out a dating app for college students tailored to your interests. There are plenty of apps out there, and almost all of them default to local singles and let you filter by age. It’s a great way to get to know someone when you’re busy or just don’t know where to start looking.

A quick tip—if you cross paths with someone you’ve seen on the app, play it cool. It can be a turnoff for a stranger to approach someone and start rattling off tidbits from their dating profile. This goes double if you’ve matched and the messages have stopped coming. Take that social cue and mentally take that person out of the running. It’s likely there are no hard feelings involved, but if it was meant to be, the conversation would have gotten there already.

We’ve walked you through the steps of starting to date in college, as well as clueing you in to some of the rough waters you’ll have to navigate. Don’t put yourself on a timetable for meeting someone. It’ll happen, and if it’s the right relationship, it will flourish. But the first step to any relationship is getting up the courage to say hello. Go for it.

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Author: Matt Seymour, MSF

Matthew J. Seymour is a dating industry expert with over a decade of experience coaching singles, reviewing dating apps, and analyzing trends within the industry. Matt is a published author with his most recent work “Get More Dates: How to Master Online Dating Apps” that hit shelves in 2023. With a Masters of Science in Finance (MSF) degree from the University of Florida and extensive knowledge of the innerworkings of the online dating industry, Matt frequently serves in an advisory role to some of the largest dating apps on the market. In Matt’s current role with Healthy Framework, he leads the interview team that regularly interviews key dating industry leaders, and leverages his financial knowledge and dating app experience to review and share what singles need to know to get the most out of dating online.