6 Ways to Overcome College Homesickness
Plus, advice for Mom and Dad on how to help their student adjust
It seems you’ve waited your whole life to live independently and experience the adventure of going to college — but don’t be surprised if the adjustment is harder than you think.
For most new college students, it’s not a matter of if you’ll experience homesickness — it’s a matter of when, says Josh Klapow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Fortunately, homesickness is usually temporary. Klapow offers these six tips on how to adjust.
1. Prepare yourself mentally. The first step is to expect it’s coming, says Klapow. Remember you’re in a new setting and out of your routine, so adjustments will be necessary. “You’ll have good hours and bad hours, and it's really important to focus on the totality of your experience and not just how bad you’re feeling,” he says.
2. Tell others how you feel. Almost every college has a support network in place for students who long for home. If you’re not comfortable discussing your feelings with new friends or other students, talk to your dorm’s residential assistant (RA) or an adviser from the student life office. These folks are there to give you support. “Being able to discuss your distress is important because 99 out of 100 times, you’ll find that you’re not alone in the situation,” Klapow says.
3. Get out there. Colleges know adjusting is difficult, so many of the activities on campus are designed to help freshman students meet new people, according to Klapow. “Most colleges and universities have tons of integration activities for freshmen, not just parties, but formalized events to get you connected,” he says. Download the campus calendar app, check the student newspaper or activity boards and try the different mixers on campus. Making friends and building your own network can reduce homesickness.
4. Skype your folks. Have a smartphone, tablet or laptop? Of course you do. Use Skype, SMS, Facetime or the social app or platform of your choice to stay in touch with home — to an extent. Klapow warns against staying too connected, which can make the adjustment period to college life longer.
5. Get into a routine. Homesickness can stem from losing your familiar daily schedule, so adopt new routines to take its place. Between going to class, studying in your favorite carrel at the library and attending social events or club meetings or theater rehearsal, keeping your calendar filled will help you establish a new groove.
6. Know what’s normal and what’s not. While feeling homesick, even for long periods, is normal, it can become debilitating for some students. If you find yourself suddenly losing or gaining a lot of weight, skipping classes, doing badly at school, blowing off your studies and withdrawing from people and activities, you may want to talk to a health counselor on campus. “That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re depressed or there’s anything else going on,” says Klapow. “But it’s enough of a red flag that you should go have it checked out.”
Mom and Dad: Support but don’t rescue
Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a teen psychologist in Connecticut, says parents should be supportive of their college-age sons and daughters while allowing them to have independence. Expect your new college student to have difficulty adjusting — but don’t intervene unless there are signs your child’s homesickness is evolving into a more serious emotional issue.
Encourage them to stay on campus on weekends instead of coming home for frequent visits, Greenberg says. But let them know you are there to support them, she adds.
Klapow echoes that statement. “I tell parents to convey to your child the love you have for them, and that you are there for a safety net but not to rescue them. Tell them, ‘you are there, we are here and we’re always going to be here.’ You want to give them stability without necessarily intervening.”