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  • Writer's pictureLiz Morrison, LCSW

How to Date in College – Navigating Love and Relationships After High School


How to Date in College

In high school, finding people to date may feel fairly simple and straightforward. You may have grown up with the same group of people since you were young, which means you’re likely pretty familiar with your peers. Whether you’re just now entering the dating scene or have experience with high school dating, college introduces different challenges and freedoms.


Life and dating in college is a different experience in many ways. You’re probably surrounded by new people in a new environment, possibly for the first time. You’re learning how to navigate new social scenes, rigorous academics, and hobbies, all while learning to live independently. It can all feel like a lot of work and pressure, and that’s okay. College is all about gaining new experiences and learning who you are. There’s no rush or timeline for this.


As a group practice that works with young adults, we’ve seen so many young people struggle with the post-high school dating scene. Learning how to date in college can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be a complete mystery. Here are some of our best tips on navigating dating during college that have helped our clients.


Learning How to Date in College

Going to college comes with big changes and challenges. In your late teens and early 20s, you’re developing your sense of identity, values, and who you want to be in the world. Learning who you are and the types of relationships you want is a lifelong process, and it may take some trial and error. This is a normal part of young adulthood. So don’t worry about putting too much pressure on yourself to figure it all out right away.


There are things that can make this process easier and more fulfilling, though. In order to enjoy dating at any phase of life, and particularly during college, it’s helpful to ask yourself who you are, what your values are, and what you want out of a relationship.


Consider what you want when it comes to dating:

  • Are you looking for a long-term relationship?

  • Would you prefer something casual?

  • What level of commitment do you want?

  • Do you want to be exclusive or non-exclusive?

There are no right or wrong ways to date, and many people don’t realize there are options when it comes to dating and relationships. Asking yourself these questions can help you figure out your own values and desires.


Maybe you’re not ready for a serious or committed relationship, and you want to date around to see how it feels. Maybe you want to date multiple people at once so you can figure out what you want in a partner. Or maybe you want more than one committed relationship at a time. And maybe you don’t know what you want. That’s okay, too. Working with a therapist can help you sort through your dating desires.


Your values and desires will ultimately guide who you will date. For example, if you’re looking for a long-term, committed relationship, it makes sense to seek out a partner based on things like shared values, emotional and physical compatibility, and similar life goals. Without these qualities, a long-term relationship will have much more difficulty thriving.


If you want to explore dating options and have casual fun, then you can simply focus on dating people you feel safe with and who make you feel good. You don’t need to focus as much on long-term life goals, for example, because those aren’t as important in casual relationships.


Whatever you decide is okay, because there’s no right or wrong ways to date. Just make sure you’re on the same page as who you’re dating about things like relationship expectations, exclusivity, and boundaries. Lack of communication in a relationship can lead to confusion and hurt feelings, so make sure you’re clear with one another about what each of you wants and needs. This is important in any relationship, whether it’s a brief encounter or a five-year committed partnership.


Emotional Skills You Need to Date in College

Emotional Skills You Need to Date in College

Many of us never learned how to communicate our needs – and listen to the needs of others – without feeling anxious or shutting down. Being able to communicate well in relationships takes practice, trust, and emotional vulnerability. Successful dating also requires nuanced skills like:

  • Emotional resilience

  • Willingness to open up to one another

  • Taking accountability for your own relationship triggers and habits

  • The ability to set boundaries

  • Honesty

  • Being able to have difficult or uncomfortable conversations

These are skills you can learn, but you (and the people you’re dating) have to be willing to continually hone and develop them.


Building up the skills, resilience, and healthy coping mechanisms to have a fun and successful dating life takes effort. It can take a lot of trial and error before you figure out what you want from your dating life – and that’s okay. As long as you act with good intentions and do your best, you’ll have experiences that will help you learn and grow.


3 Tips for College Dating


1. Explore your desires and values

Figuring out what you want is a crucial part in successful dating. Again, it’s okay to not know exactly what you’re looking for yet. It’s also okay for what you want to change over time. But getting curious about what sounds and feels right for you at this moment in time is a useful way to connect to yourself and be able to communicate honestly with others.


One way to figure out what you want is to clarify your personal core values. Core values shape who you are and the actions you take based on what’s truly important to you. A relationship value you have might be having a traditional family life that includes marriage and children. Or maybe a relationship value you hold dear is autonomy, which entails having lots of time to yourself or living alone. You can form perfectly happy and healthy relationships based on either of these values, but it’s important to be able to distinguish what matters most to you in order to have a healthy dating life.


2. Find groups of people who share your passions and hobbies

College is all about exploration, growth, and learning. Luckily, most colleges have plenty of built-in structure to help you find the things you love doing. Meeting people and dating is easier with people who have shared interests and passions. Join clubs, teams, or activities at your school that sound fun and fulfilling to you. These activities will have like-minded people who may become your people. Seeking out environments where you can be yourself and have fun is a great way to make friends, find dates, or both.

3. Communicate

Communication is hard – it requires a lot of vulnerability, patience, and honesty. It’s also key to a healthy dating life. Make sure you’re speaking honestly and openly about things like safety, consent, pleasure, and comfort. You’ll also need to learn how to talk about things that aren’t going well or that need to change. Communication is a two-way street, and requires both people in a relationship to be willing to have uncomfortable – but necessary – conversations.


Therapy Can Help You Navigate College Dating


Dating during college can feel overwhelming and difficult to navigate. You don’t have to figure it out by yourself. If you’re looking for support figuring out what you want from dating, consider therapy.


We’re here to help you build the necessary life skills, emotional resilience, and coping tools to have a happy and healthy dating life. You’ll learn how to incorporate your values into your relationships, understand how to communicate with others no matter what your dating goals are, and feel better equipped to handle whatever dating situation comes your way.


Feel free to get in touch with us for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We can answer any questions you have, see whether we’re a good fit, and start working toward a better future today.


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