How to Deal With Homesickness in College
By Heather Mullinix
Reviewed by Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC
Published on August 12, 2021
- When going away to school, many students report feeling homesick at college.
- Keeping busy and getting involved can help you get over homesickness.
- Stay in touch with friends and family as you make the adjustment to college.
Many college students leave home each fall to start the next chapter in their lives. Most public college students enroll in a school within 50 miles of their home. But whether moving across town or across the country, students often find themselves in new surroundings far different from the comforts of home.
As you settle into your new residence, you may need to take steps to fight off homesickness in college. Here are some tips for how to do that.
Reach Out to Others for Support
You may find leaving home and living independently overwhelming at first. The good news is that you're not alone. Other new students may be feeling those same fears and uncertainties.
Talk with your roommates or classmates about feeling homesick at college, and share how you're adjusting to new routines, new surroundings, and new people. You also can turn to older students, such as your resident advisor or someone within your field of study. They can connect you to activities and organizations that can help you build friendships and support networks.
Cases of homesickness may be especially high this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and depression among college students. A recent BestColleges study found that over 9 in 10 students have experienced negative mental health effects due to the pandemic.
Be sure to check out the student support resources available at your school, including counseling services.
Find Ways to Keep Busy
Homesickness at college often gets better in a few weeks as you settle into your new surroundings. One way to speed up that process is to get out of your room and see what the college and community have to offer. Often, you have up to a week to settle in before classes start, so aim to make the most of those first days on campus.
You can also see whether your campus fitness center offers any classes that interest you, or join an intramural sports team. Often, colleges and universities organize activities that allow students to mix and mingle during the first few weeks of school.
And don't stop at the campus boundary: Seek out parks and recreational opportunities in the surrounding community. Other options are to look for organizations that welcome volunteers or churches and faith communities with activities geared toward college students.
Getting involved can help you fill your days and keep your mind off what you miss about home.
Give Yourself Time to Adjust
Staying active can help ease some of your feelings of homesickness at college; however, you still may have times when you miss the people and places you left behind. You might wonder how to get over being homesick. Understand that it can take time to settle into new routines and feel more comfortable in your new home.
Researchers have found that homesickness can last as little as three weeks or linger for more than a year. In one study, 94% of students reported experiencing homesickness at some point during their first 10 weeks of college.
There's no quick fix to homesickness — it takes time and patience. Periods of transition, such as returning to school following a break or holiday, can also cause those feelings to return. Allow yourself time to miss the people and places you left behind.
Know That Your Feelings Are Normal
Many students struggle with feeling homesick at college. A 2016 survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that more than 70% of first-year students occasionally or frequently experienced homesickness. These feelings of separation and distress made it difficult for some students to function in their new environment.
Homesickness can result from being in a new location, adapting to a new culture, or starting a new routine, and can include missing your family, friends, or pets. You may miss a special breakfast your family enjoyed on weekends or activities you and your friends took part in before you left home.
These changes can make students feel anxious or nervous. Some students may have trouble sleeping or feel lonely or isolated. You may also experience feelings of grief or depression. Each student experiences homesickness in college differently. Make sure to get help if these feelings persist.
Also, keep in mind that any change can be difficult, even if it's a positive one. Human brains are wired to take comfort in what's familiar. A period of adjustment should be expected once you get to school. Talking to someone at your college counseling center could help you acclimate, even if you don't have strong feelings of depression or grief.
Stay in Touch With Friends and Family
Keeping in touch with loved ones back home can help you combat homesickness at college. Technology makes it easy to text, talk, or video chat with friends and family despite distance. Some students call home 10 times or more a week.
The college calendar offers breaks you can use to return home, with some schools offering a fall break in October. Holidays typically mean a long weekend as well. If you're only a short drive from your family, you can use those breaks to go home and catch up.
But college life doesn't stop on Friday afternoon — you may need to study or work during the weekend. Weekends also offer opportunities to get involved in clubs and organizations on campus. If you attend a school more than a couple hours from home, returning more often may pose a financial hardship.
Strike a balance between returning home and settling into your college home. Take advantage of opportunities to share your new community with your family or friends by inviting them to visit. Playing tour guide can help you become familiar with your college town and feel more at ease with your living situation.
Find Opportunities to Connect With Other Students
Colleges offer many opportunities to get involved, meet new people, and make friends. Forging friendships can help you adjust to your new environment and keep you from dwelling on missing home.
Making friends requires you to take some initiative and put yourself out there. Keep an open mind, be yourself, and ask genuine questions to get conversations started.
Your school's campus activities or student life office should plan events to help bring the community together. Your dorm or residential life office can also help connect you with other students.
Additionally, you can seek out students with similar interests by joining a campus club, student group, or fraternity or sorority. Your major may even offer a student organization. If you enjoy art, music, or acting, check out opportunities to join groups focused on those activities.
Campus fitness centers typically offer exercise equipment, fitness classes, and intramural sports leagues. Some schools organize camping trips. Take advantage of the chance to try new things. Exercise can also help distract you from feeling homesick at college.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dealing With Homesickness in College
About 70% of students report feeling homesick or lonely — either occasionally or frequently — during their first year in college. Researchers define homesickness as feeling separated from family, a familiar location, or culture, with distress related to that separation. Students may miss family back home, old friends, or a relationship.
Feeling homesick at college can last a few weeks or several months. Homesickness can also return, even after you think you've gotten over those feelings. Adjusting to your new environment will take time. Strategies for dealing with college homesickness can help you overcome those feelings.
Keeping in touch with the people important to you can help with your adjustment to college. If you live close enough to return home occasionally, you can go back for holiday weekends or important events. However, make an effort to stay on campus so you can meet people and build relationships. Instead of going home, consider inviting your family and friends to visit you.
Homesickness can show up in different ways. You may have trouble sleeping or lack an appetite. Homesickness can impact your productivity and cause you to withdraw from others. You also may feel anxious or depressed. If these symptoms persist, seek out resources and talk to your physician or a counselor. Many schools offer a counseling office to help students address mental health concerns.
First, tell homesick students that their feelings are normal. It can be challenging to start a new chapter in our lives, but that discomfort is not permanent. Next, encourage them to try new activities or join organizations. Staying busy can help distract them from feeling homesick at college. Taking part in activities can also help them make friends and discover new interests.
Rayelle Davis is a nationally board certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student, she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland. She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology online at the University of Maryland Global Campus. Rayelle earned her master's degree in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy from Duquesne University. She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses. She is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University and practices psychotherapy in Maryland.
Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about health-related issues.
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