I have enjoyed reading the Facebook updates from those young scholars who are starting the first year of college. Well, I’ve enjoyed reading some of them - those written by extroverts. Updates from introverts, if they write them at all, can be painful to read. You see, the first few weeks of college are paradise for extroverts. It’s all about meeting new groups of people, and participating in social activities designed to help you fit into a large group of other new people. It’s extrovert heaven, primarily because it is orchestrated by other extroverts - those college student development staff members and student government types who are in those roles and given this task because, well...they are “people persons.” In other words, they are extroverts. And all those new freshmen who write on Facebook about how wonderful college is and how much they love it ... after just 4 days: well, guess what - they love it because it hasn’t really started yet.
These first few days of college life are completely divorced from what the academic side of higher education is all about. Oh sure, an occasional dean or provost tries to throw in a philosophical discussion here and there, but those are few and far between, and are always led by the most friendly and outgoing young professors and graduate assistants. They don’t let the majority of the faculty anywhere near the place and the faculty aren’t complaining.
In order to become a college professor, you have to spend thousands of hours working alone or in small groups, mostly in libraries and laboratories. You have to be comfortable focusing your attention on things most other people don’t care about - and you really only like to be around folks who are interested in exactly the same things you are interested in. You don’t like social gatherings where the goal is to meet as many new people as possible. You see, most college faculty are largely - in a much higher percentage than the population as a whole - introverts. And when they think back on their undergraduate experience, they remember that the first few weeks of their freshman year was the worst time of their entire college life.
So, if you are the parent of a new college student, and he or she is a bit overwhelmed by all the new people and by all the forced social interactions - and just the idea of walking into the dining hall is overwhelming - tell them to hang on. It gets better. In just a few days, they will settle into their classes, and the focus will not be on making friends, but on the intellectual tasks of the college experience. That is usually much more in the “sweet spot” of introverts. And they can find a few people who are interested in the deep conversations and activities in which introverts thrive.
Of course, walking into the dining hall will probably never be their favorite thing, and dorm life is not near as much fun for some as it is for others. But it gets better, especially if someone sends real mail, and that mail includes brownies or an occasional check.