contact Justine

Takeaway: Starting to date in college as an adult can be fun, but it can also cause a lot of anxiety. In this post, I explain tips for how to start dating in college so you feel more confident about yourself and the process.

How to Date in College

College can be a time that is both exciting and overwhelming. For many people, college is one of the first major steps toward independence. Having more control over your decisions can feel liberating.

At the same time, the sheer amount of options can leave your head spinning. Which school are you going to choose? What major do you want to study? Will you live on campus or off? There are so many decisions to make, and it can be difficult to choose.

Dating is part of this college experience. Figuring out how to start dating in college can be challenging for anyone, but especially for college students since there are so many other new things to navigate.

Dating in college can look much different than dating in high school. There are often more potential partners, and you likely have the opportunity to explore your identity in a way you may have never been able to (or been comfortable doing) before now.

Hi, I'm Justine Carino, a therapist in Westchester, NY. If you’re feeling unsure about how to date in college, you’re not alone. These tips can help you tackle the dating scene with confidence.

Tips for how to start dating in college

While there is no manual that will tell you exactly how to date in college, these tips will help guide you in the direction that’s right for you.

Be yourself

Easier said than done, right? Being yourself sounds so straightforward, but actually putting it into practice can be difficult. 

It’s made even more challenging by the pressure that college students often feel to fit in with their peers. 

With that being said, it’s essential to stay true to who you are. Changing yourself to attract potential partners will only lead to issues in the long run. You deserve someone who will like you for the person you are.

Of course, experimenting is completely normal, and college is the time to build your sense of identity. You can try new things while still listening to your gut.

Reflect on what you’re looking for

It’s okay if you’re unsure exactly what you want in a potential partner. You don’t need to have a certain “type.” In fact, being open to different possibilities is often a positive quality.

However, it can be helpful to gain clarity about what kind of dating experience you want. Are you looking to casually date different people at the same time? Is exclusivity and commitment important to you?

These are all important questions to consider. Figuring out your own expectations can help you be clear with potential partners and give you a sense of direction when you’re navigating how to date in college.

It’s normal, and expected, for you to have different hookups throughout your time in college. Hookups are actually, in my opinion, a healthy thing for any college student to experiment with and experience.

Of course, you need to be careful. STDs are a real concern when hooking up with people you don’t know very well. Make sure you’re using protection and being smart about your hookups.

Open yourself to experiences

It is important to know yourself and get clear on what you want--and college is also a great time to experiment. After all, this is a time in your life when you’re building your identity.

It’s possible that your family or hometown made you feel like it wasn’t okay to explore your sexuality and dating preferences. At college, you’re likely more independent than ever, which allows you to seize opportunities you may not otherwise have.

Of course, it’s important to continuously check in with yourself as you try new things to ensure that you’re safe. As long as you feel comfortable with your decisions, you can allow yourself to try new things.

Work with a therapist

Relationship counseling isn’t only for couples. If you’re struggling with the idea of how to start dating in college, you could benefit from working with a therapist.

Sometimes dating is made more difficult by things like past relationships (both romantic relationships and those with our family members), difficult events we’ve experienced, or mental health issues.

A therapist can help you process through these challenges and empower you to take control of your life--including your dating life. If you’re interested in learning more about how therapy can help you navigate dating, contact me today (New York residents only).

Put yourself out there

It’s hard to meet new people if you’re constantly holed up in your dorm room. Reaching out to others and inserting yourself into social situations is the best way to meet potential dating partners.

Most people think of “going out” as equivalent to “attending parties.” While this is certainly one way to meet people, it’s not the only way. 

If parties aren’t your thing, that’s okay! Get involved in activities on campus that interest you. After all, if you meet someone in one of these groups, you’ll know you already have one thing in common.

You can even meet people in places you might not expect: in class, in the dining hall, or even the library. Going out of your way to engage with new people can work in any setting.

Zoom out your lens

It can be easy to let dating consume you, but remember: your love life is only part of your college experience. 

Depending on your situation, you may feel pressure to completely immerse yourself in the dating scene. Maybe all of your friends are in relationships, or maybe you just have an expectation for yourself that you need to have an active dating life. Whatever the case is, taking a step back can help you gain perspective.

You also need to be careful about letting a relationship consume you. Abusive relationships aren’t just physical or sexual, but they can also be psychological. If you meet someone extremely charming who sweeps you off your feet, puts you on a pedestal, and then tears you down until you feel worthless, that’s a toxic relationship.

So don’t let the pressure to be immersed in the dating scene take over and lead you into a relationship that is bad for you. Take care of yourself and pay attention to red flags.

Friends, school, extracurricular activities, among other things, are all parts of your college experience that deserve your time and attention. Reorienting yourself to these other elements of your life can help alleviate some of the pressure to find a partner.

Therapy can help you figure out how to date in college

Still feeling unsure about how to start dating in college? You don’t need to navigate it alone.

Therapy can help you make sense of the dating world and deal with any issues that are holding you back in your love life. You’ll leave our sessions feeling more confident, equipped with the tools you need to fully embrace dating in whatever way makes sense for you.

I'm a therapist in Westchester, NY, and I’d be honored to walk this journey with you. Reach out today for support--I can help you in therapy if you live in the state of New York.

Meet the author

Justine Carino

Justine is a licensed mental health counselor with a private practice in White Plains, NY. She helps teenagers, young adults and families struggling with anxiety, depression, family conflict and relationship issues. Justine is also the host of the podcast Thoughts From the Couch.