I'm currently working on a college essay with a 350 max word count. I want the essay to be precise, dense, and meaningful. Is there an elegant replacement for "I became friends with"?

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    We don't normally give writing advice here, but remember there is a verb "befriended". Look it up. – WS2 Nov 9 '17 at 19:40
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    Welcome to EL&U. Please take the site tour and review the help center, as well as the guidance for making single-word-requests, for a better understanding of the kinds of questions we can entertain here. – choster Nov 9 '17 at 19:42

The word you're looking for is befriend. It is a transitive verb with the definition:

to become or act as a friend to
- befriended the new student

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