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Isolated college first-years look to Instagram to make friends

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The account, collegesboston2024, has turned out to be a social lifeline for Boston-area students, attracting thousands of followers and requiring seven students working in shifts around the clock to manage it. Its enormous popularity, and that of similar Instagram accounts for college first-years, testify to the singular challenge of friend-making at colleges that have reopened under rigid safety protocols. More than ever, students — bereft of parties, long talks in the dining hall, and even study sessions in the library — are depending on social media for a social life.

“We can’t really rely on naturally organic, flowing relationships, which is what I thought was going to happen in college,” said Jaime Kim, the first student Garberg recruited to help her manage the explosion of activity on the account. “We definitely have to . . . go out of our way to reach out to people.”

Accounts like these are not new. Eager high school seniors have been using them for years to connect with future classmates. And on campuses, friendships are still forming the old-fashioned way. But even this generation of digitally savvy teenagers say social media have taken on unprecedented importance this year because there are so few other ways to meet

Talking to someone in class now requires near shouting, students said in interviews, since everyone is muffled by masks and spaced far apart. Dining halls are largely takeout operations, and club meetings happen over Zoom. A student at Wellesley described taking a modern dance class virtually, lunging across her dorm room alone.

“Even though I’m a first-year and I don’t really know what college is supposed to be, it definitely does feel like something’s missing,” said John Cho, 19, another student who helps run the account.

But everybody’s got Instagram on their phones. Each day, collegesboston2024