College can be a crucial time for practicing and improving social skills, but students who are shy or who experience social anxiety—often a more debilitating form of shyness—can find this challenging.

If you suffer from shyness, you may avoid others, not speak up in class and be unable to initiate casual conversations or ask for help. Additionally, you may have trouble standing up for yourself in difficult situations or give the appearance of being uninterested.

Tips for Overcoming Social Anxiety

Adjust Your Attitude

Adjusting your attitude can be done on two fronts: changing unrealistic expectations of your own behavior and changing thoughts that others will condemn you if you're not perfect. Practice replacing your self-critical thoughts with more supportive ideas:

  • It would be nice if this had turned out differently, but it's not the end of the world.
  • No one else is perfect. I don't have to be either.
  • Most people can handle it when someone makes a mistake.

Start Small and Build

Smile, nod and say hello to the people you encounter. Make a brief comment to a classmate sitting nearby about coursework, the instructor, that tough exam or current events. During the next class session, repeat this process with the same person and include an additional person in the conversation.

Keep repeating the process until a handful of people start to feel more familiar to you and it seems more natural to talk to them. A logical next step would be to get together to study or hang out.

Consider participating in a special interest group/service organization. Nothing helps people get to know each other better than working toward a common goal.

Speak Up

Talk in a moderately louder voice, and don't be afraid if your statement overlaps the previous speaker a bit. Frequent eye contact is essential in modern communication. A relaxed, but alert posture is more approachable than a rigid one.

Have something to say

Become knowledgeable about world events and campus news. If you have a specialized interest, learn to talk about it so that beginners and experts can understand you. Collect amusing stories or jokes to share.

Be a Curious Listener

Ask questions that are open-ended. Open-ended questions start with why, how, what or when. Give compliments when appropriate. In social settings, take the risk to approach another person who looks shy.


Take every opportunity that comes along to improve your skills.