The media image of students heading off or returning to college is full of youthful exuberance and independence. “Finally! I’m out of the house and on my own!” “I am so excited to be back with my friends again!” However, as a former college counselor, I can share with you that not only is homesickness in college students present, it is common.
For many students who experience homesickness, it is a developmentally appropriate adjustment period in a new place with new faces and a new routine. But, for others, it is truly devastating. I have had more than one student in my office in tears missing family, friends, and even pets. Some of them were able to adjust over time while others did not, eventually returning home after a difficult semester or two.
10 Tips for Coping with Homesickness in College
If you are a college student who is struggling with homesickness, there are several things that may be helpful as you cope with this difficult experience:
1. You are not alone. Many students experience homesickness when they come to college.
2. Try not to compare yourself to students who seem to be embracing/enjoying the college experience, everyone adjusts differently.
3. Reframing your homesickness as a reflection of good things that are in your life can be helpful.
4. Whatever skills helped you connect with people back home can help you at college as well. It is a valuable, transferable skill.
5. Homesickness is usually a temporary experience. Give yourself time to adjust and connect with new people.
6. Share your homesickness with people you trust, people back home, and/or people who have experienced the same thing.
7. Visit your college counseling office for support.
8. Plan times to visit home (if possible) and also establish times to stay on campus and be intentional about spending time with others there.
9. Part of adjusting to college is how “big” it can seem. Narrowing down a friend group by major, activity, sport, or interest area can help it feel smaller and more personal.
10. Celebrate “small” successes like remembering a new person’s name, inviting someone to the dining hall, or getting involved in a club or activity on campus.
Tips for Helping Your College Student Cope with Homesickness
When a college student is coping with homesickness, it’s not just hard on them, it’s hard on the folks back home as well! If you have a college student who is struggling with homesickness consider these strategies:
1. Adapt the suggestions above for yourself as their support. For example, remind them it is normal to feel this way, that they will likely adjust, and that loving where they came from is a positive reflection of home.
2. Similarly, remind them of their strengths. Whatever positive environment they were able to develop at home used skills they can now use at college to create a new/additional support system.
3. Learn about the people they are meeting, their classes, and what they are involved in. Your excitement can help fuel theirs and offer your support for this new experience.
4. Visit them at college (if possible) in a strategic way. Figure out what is “often enough but not too often.” And, while visiting, show your support and excitement for their new environment and experience.
5. Remind them that college is a long-ish, but temporary experience with built-in breaks to return home (for most domestic students). Encourage them to engage and be present during each semester and that, looking back, it often feels like a short but important time.
While homesickness is often portrayed as a minimal concern, it can truly be a challenging and surprisingly long-lasting experience for many college students. While students who overcome homesickness are often glad they stayed at college, they still need a great deal of support while they are struggling. And, for some, it may be that going to college back home truly is the best choice. Regardless, the tips above can be helpful as each student figures out the best way forward!
Post published August 14, 2023 by Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. www.annerulo.com. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo