Building Confidence in College: Curating Authentic/Supportive In-Person & Online Social Circles
Aug 15, 2023
The author, wearing a Bamboo Woven in Ivory, at the beach this past summer.
Editorial Note: As part of Haute Hijab Academy, we are running a series on “building confidence” at various stages of our lives, talking about what deters us or takes away our confidence, why being confident is an important life tool and how to nurture confidence within ourselves and the women in our lives.
By A. Ali
During my very first semester in college, I came across a post that read, “I always make sure to congratulate college graduates because no one knows the amount of struggle that went into that paper degree.” I thought to myself, I understand what it means, and moved on with my day.
I am now entering my junior (third) year in college. While I may have vaguely understood what sort of struggle that post was talking about when I first read it, I intimately understand it now.
College is a whirlwind of a constant onslaught of work, the few hours of sleep that are nestled in the cracks of assignments, and the fleeting memories of weekends spent with friends between it all. It’s effervescent and high-spirited, and for a brief moment, the entire world seems to lie at your fingertips. That feeling of college can bring a lot of joy to young students, but there are other elements to that academic experience that can seriously deter their confidence.
A lot of it has to do with their social presence in that world.
When Social Circles Suck Your Confidence
In college, you are constantly surrounded by other people, and “alone time” is a concept that is not built into dorm rooms. If not cultivated carefully, your social presence in college can chip away at your confidence day by day, especially because the social circles you surround yourself with can often become reflections of treatment or habits you will inadvertently accept in your own life.
The author this past summer in Cambridge.
When your social circle sucks the life and energy from you, you can start to believe that you are innately hard to love, when in reality, you are surrounding yourself with people who are not even trying to love you well. Then your confidence tanks. (And this doesn’t even address other challenges some college students may have, like if they feel lonely and on the outside of everything in the midst of so much social activity in college, which is also a huge confidence-killer.)
Your online social presence also significantly impacts your confidence in college, particularly if you are a young woman. Social media is a lot of things,and it can be a major deterrent to building assuredness in your own character and beliefs, regardless of religious or spiritual background.
But when you add being Muslim into the mix, social media can water down your sense of self so vehemently that somewhere along the way, you lose who you are. Young Muslim women on social media are constantly being told what to do and what not to do, and oftentimes, misguided advice can actually weaken our sense of imaan (faith). College is such a formative time of life, and social media can steer a young Muslim woman off of the straight path so easily in a way that significantly alters their understanding of love and faith for years down the road.
The former confidence deterrent was one that really impacted my college experience during my first year, and the latter deterrent impacted me during sophomore year. Surrounding myself with the wrong social circle shattered my sense of self and left me scared to assert my own boundaries and defend my own character. Not carefully monitoring my social media presence left me struggling to define my understanding of Islam without outside influence, and left me questioning how I chose to lead my own life.
Don’t get me wrong – there are great accounts to follow managed by dynamic Muslim women, scholars, leaders, influencers and other people. Social media can also open up doors for you that help you renew a sense of faith and commit to yourself and to Allah (S) anew. But without strategic practices, it can also do the complete opposite.
So, how does one navigate their social presence in the world during college years in a way that is productive and confidence boosting, not deteriorating?
Strong Circle, Private Life, Peaceful Mind
Image source: Pexels
Let’s start with social circles. When it comes to who you let into your life, be stringent. In college, especially during your first year, you are going to meet all kinds of people from all different walks of life – that’s one of the most beautiful things about college. However, it is also a really difficult thing about college, because you can easily fall into the wrong group of people and lose yourself in the process.
Surround yourself with people who really enrich your life and reciprocate the love you pour into them. Surround yourself with people who have empathy for you on both the good and bad days. Remove yourself from social circles that drain you of your happiness, and don’t be afraid to keep some people as acquaintances and nothing more than that. Who you surround yourself with can really set the tone for how you view yourself.
Note: This does not mean that you have to be ruthless. If you eliminate everyone who holds a slightly different worldview from yours, then you’ll just be left with no social circle at all, which is decidedly not the goal in mind. Instead, when you’re building your social circle, make sure you keep people around you that expand your mindset in a way that is healthy for your growth.
Keep people around you that will support you and gently redirect you when you (inevitably) do something wrong. Being with just yes men/women doesn't serve us well. You want to keep people around who genuinely support you and will help you build your kingdom because they also want what is best for you.
One of the best pieces of advice I heard was, “Small circle. Private life. Peaceful mind.” I don’t think this necessarily means you have to keep a tiny circle, especially if you lean on the extroverted side. Instead, the concept is that you don’t need to tell everyone everything about your life, and you should keep a select amount of people around you who actually get to hear everything about your life. Otherwise, remain somewhat private, and protect your peace.
The author at her university last fall.
Not everyone is for you, and you are not for everyone. So, I encourage you to be careful about who you invite into that inner circle. You can have lots of general friends and still keep a tight circle around you that gets to hear all the intimate details about your life.
When it comes to social media, it is really important to cleanse your space. My mom always asked me while I was growing up why I felt the need to follow everyone and like every post I saw. I only recognized the wisdom of what she was saying when I got older (sorry Mamma, this is a common theme in our lives 🙂). Most people in my generation grew up as social media grew and subsequently grew up while the world of online activism erupted.
With the pandemic, we shifted to having our entire lives online, and I do truly believe that this has altered our collective psyche and made it difficult for us to be present. Something I started to take seriously this year was cleansing my online space to help me maintain more peace in my personal life.
I was following a lot of people I didn’t talk to anymore, and even people I had previously had to remove from my life. I was following some public figures and content creators who started to seriously conflict with my Islamic beliefs, and I knew it was time for a change. Why? Because the conflicting perspectives reduced my confidence in my own perspective.
Editing Your Online Spaces
For several months now, I have been removing these people from my online space and holding my online activity to a higher standard than I used to. I highly recommend taking a look at your online activity, your following list and your screen time (I know that last one is hard). We’re so used to being online that it has seriously impacted our ability to think independently and think in the real world.
Two other important things to keep in mind with social media are 1) everything is filtered, and 2) everything is more nuanced in real life. It seems like very general advice, but earlier this year, I started to notice physical filters everywhere, even where I didn’t expect them to be. I also started to notice that online spaces typically exist in an extremely binary, polarized spectrum where you are either right or wrong, good or bad.
Image source: Pexels
It’s really easy to be convinced that you have to think and act in one very specific way to be a good person. It’s also easy to compare the unfiltered, unedited life you experience in real time to the filtered, edited lives that are presented to you online. Honestly, one of the best things I started doing in college was making sure that when something on social media confused me or made me doubt my own confidence in a belief I hold, I had a conversation with a real person face-to-face about it (typically one of my parents).
Talking about my social media world with real people really changed my relationship with it for the better. It made it easier to negate the intense amount of negative energy social media puts in my life.
Once I started taking both my social circles and my social media very seriously, I could sense both a mental and physical shift in my life. I felt a lot more confident in who I was, what I stood for, and how I led my life. I felt more confident in leading a life that not everyone else necessarily understood. I also physically felt more confident in my appearance, my body and my sense of style.
Insha’Allah, honing your social circles and social media presence will help improve your confidence, too. And I feel like while this advice is especially helpful for young women in school and college, it really can apply to all women.
Growing up with one foot in the real world and one foot in the online world is hard, especially when you get to college and start to really assert your own presence in the world and your own ways of thinking, It’s a wonderful and turbulent time of building confidence in your character and putting together your own little world. I promise you though, if we invest in our own confidence, it can only (Insha’Allah) help us as we build our futures.

A. Ali is in her third year of college in Virginia studying political science and leadership studies. You can find her on Instagram here.
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