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Beginning college students face challenges. They are leaving the nest, but may not be quite ready to make their own way. Finding themselves in a totally new environment, students can often feel overwhelmed. The first few weeks on campus can be a lonely experience, as the reality of separation from home and family sinks in.

This phenomenon is called homesickness, and is a normal transitory reaction when someone is in a new place, and without familiar surroundings, family and friends. It can be a terrible feeling of sadness, grief, longing, and sometimes self-doubt. Not every student who leaves 'home" experiences it, but most people have this emotional experience at some point in their lives.

College is not an extension of high school. In college students are seriously challenged to make the journey from dependence to independence and develop more mature relationships with diverse others and acquire other life skills. These tasks are not easy and don't automatically happen because someone has reached a certain age. Increased personal freedom and responsibility can be both wonderful and terrifying. Many students have enjoyed a degree of independence before college, whereas others may have had no opportunity in this area.

Some students also have difficulty adjusting to the academic demands of college. Compared to high school, college courses typically involve more reading and college exams and papers cover more material. Discipline and good time management, study habits, and test-taking skills are necessary for success. For some students, adding a heavy workload to a confusing and lonely social environment is more than they can bear.

Typically, with sufficient time and effort, students begin to find friends and other sources of support in their new home. They get accustomed to the new surroundings, procedures, and people, and the homesickness subsides in intensity, frequency, and duration. For some, however, the process may be long and painful, and homesickness is almost too intense and prolonged to bear. Students may decide to go home, and that’s okay. Often when this occurs, other factors have contributed to the intensity of the student's emotional experience, such as some unresolved family issues/family crisis or transition, or a lack of readiness to encounter new situations (such as lack of confidence in one's abilities and interpersonal skills). To go home because of homesickness does not need to be a defeat. Regardless of a person's decision to stay or go, it is important to explore what factors contributed to this reaction, and what needs to be done behaviorally, emotionally, spiritually, financially, etc. to negotiate a future change.

How do you know if you are homesick?

To determine whether you as a student may have difficulties with homesickness and college adjustment, ask yourself the following:

  • Did you need a lot of supervision at home (homework, chores, etc.)?
  • Do your parents talk to other adults for you?
  • Have you had problems with responsibility in work, groups, or teams?
  • Do you lack self-confidence and assertiveness?
  • Has peer pressure been a problem for you?
  • Is it difficult for you to make or keep friends?

These are some, but not all, of the possible symptoms you may notice. The presence of these symptoms does not directly indicate that you are homesick, but may be early warning signs.

How can you deal with homesickness?

Students who believe they may have difficulties with homesickness should consider developing a strategy to overcome them. Some suggestions include:

  • Have confidence that it will pass with time
  • Be willing to confide your feelings to others (family and friends)
  • Be assured that feeling homesick is part of the normal developmental process
  • As much as possible, devote some part of each day to doing one new thing in the new environment
  • If possible, enlist the support and guidance of an older person who has been in this environment for a while who can provide information about the new place, and be something of a "mentor".

If none of these strategies seems to help, you can always contact the Drexel University Counseling Center at (215) 895-1415 for help in sorting out your feelings and options. With the appropriate support of family, friends, and the professionals available at the Counseling Center, students can find that college need not remain an overwhelming or frightening experience.

The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.