Countdown to College: What happens when they’re homesick?

Longing for the comforts of home when everything is new and different isn’t surprising, but the depth of homesickness among students on college campuses appears to be rising.

According to Christopher Thurber, a psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in Exeter, N.H., “about 20 percent of students entering college say they’re bothered by missing home, and about 5 percent have homesickness so severe that it interferes with their daily lives or causes significant symptoms of anxiety or depression.”

My niece, a freshman at Elon University, said she finds the transitions – heading home and returning to campus – are the hardest for her. And she has had a bunch this fall.

First, there’s the big drop-off in late August. Then, in varying order, there’s Parents’ Weekend and fall break, when family members come to campus and then students head home. And then it seems, as quickly as the leaves turn, it’s suddenly Thanksgiving and there’s another visit home. After that time off, students return to campus for sometimes as little as two weeks before they head home again for Christmas break.

With this many stops and starts in a freshman’s routine, it’s understandable why getting adjusted can be so challenging for so many students.

One of the biggest problems homesick students encounter is admitting they need help. Resident Assistants (RAs) are trained to identify symptoms and respond with a variety of tools.

Here are some suggested strategies for battling homesickness:

▪ Realize that homesickness is natural and everyone feels it to a greater or lesser degree.

▪ Don’t make any snap decisions to leave; time is the greatest healer.

▪ Figure out what helps you relax (music, exercise, etc.) and what makes you happy on campus, then do more of that.

▪ Get busy. Focus on the new opportunities, new people, new surroundings.

▪ Try not to be alone too often. It’s much harder to be sad, bored and lonely when you’re with other people.

▪ Determine what you’re missing from home and see if there’s some way to replace or replicate it on campus. For some students, it’s food; a care package can work wonders.

▪ Don’t call home too often. It’s better to plan specific times to chat. Many homesick students find Skype or FaceTime more challenging because they can see their parents, siblings, pets, house, etc. Try and keep it to a brief phone call.

The good news, according to Larry Marks, a psychologist at the University of Central Florida Counseling Center, is that “usually the feeling lessens as the first semester goes on. Focusing on classes, making friends, and getting involved in campus activities will help with the transition.”

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;