The transition to college is arguably the biggest change of your life—so far. You’re living away from home for the first time, adjusting to life with someone you barely know in a (very) close space, and starting over with your social circle. While the first week or two may feel like summer camp on steroids, once you get settled in, it’s not uncommon to feel homesick for your hometown, family, and high school friends. According to one survey, 66% of first-year college students experience severe homesickness. If you’re in that majority, here are some things you should know.
You’re not alone
It can sometimes feel like everyone around you is having the time of their lives and not thinking about home at all, but you should know this isn’t the case. While some people adjust to huge transitions faster than others, the vast majority of students in your freshman class are missing home at least some of the time. Once you accept that other people are dealing with the same feelings you are, it’s easier to accept your own, deal with them, and move on.
Social media doesn’t tell the whole story
We’ve all heard this a million times before, but it’s true: social media is just a highlight reel of people’s lives and not the full story. It can be hard to look at posts of your high school friends with their new friends, appearing to have completely adjusted to college, but those posts don’t tell the whole story. They’re probably struggling just as much as you are—so try reaching out once in a while and see how they’re doing!
Related: Video: Leaving Home for the First Time
Everyone deals with things differently
Just because your roommate never calls home doesn’t mean you can’t call home when you want to. We all deal with things in different ways, and homesickness is no exception. Some people are open to talking about their homesickness, while others aren’t comfortable with it. If you roommate is one of those people, don’t push them to help cope with your own feelings, but let them know you’re there in case they’ve been keeping their feelings bottled up too.
It’s okay to seek help
The transition to college is arguably the biggest of your life. Being apart from your family and the life you’ve come to know and love can also exacerbate prior struggles with depression and anxiety. If you’re feeling consistently hopeless, sad, or upset, it may be a good idea to visit your school’s counseling center. Don’t feel ashamed if this is something you need to do; rather, be proud of yourself for working up the courage to find someone to help you address these problems.
Related: Why It's Crucial to Care for Your Mental Health in College
Dealing with homesickness
Once you’ve accepted these facts about homesickness, here are some tips for healthy coping mechanisms to get you through until your first school break.
While texting is a viable option for staying close with your family, a phone call is so much more personal. Anuj Kalia, a college sophomore at North Carolina State University, advocates for freshmen to “talk to their parents and siblings often.” Remember that physically talking on the phone is more effective in quelling homesickness than texting because you can hear your loved ones’ voices. Sometimes just hearing your family rehash their typical day or telling you about the latest shenanigans of your pup will make you feel better.
However, be careful with this one. Calling home too much can work in reverse and make you miss it more—plus, you don’t want to miss out on making new friends and having fun on campus because you need to call home every night. For many people, calling for 15 minutes or less a couple times a week can be more beneficial than hours-long chats.
Related: How to Overcome Homesickness in College
Write a letter home
Sending some snail mail is incredibly therapeutic. Plus, your mom will appreciate a handwritten letter from you about your recent activities and college life. In return, you just might get a care package, which—I can tell you from personal experience—is a wonderful gift.
Go home for a weekend
If the homesick blues have hit you hard and you’re not too far away, treat yourself and go home for a weekend. Sometimes sleeping in your own bed, eating a homecooked meal, and being back in a familiar place does wonders when it comes to recharging your batteries.
Invite your family to visit you
The alternative to a weekend visit home is to invite your family to come see you. While you won’t receive all the comforts of home, you’ll be able to get big hugs and show your family around your new town and college campus. Their enthusiasm about your new place will increase yours. And chances are they’ll take you out for a nice dinner that doesn’t consist of cafeteria food!
Related: Exploring Your College City
Don’t give yourself too much free time
Beyond contact with your family, an important thing you can do to combat the blues is to avoid giving yourself too much unstructured time. When you have too much downtime on your hands, your thoughts can naturally drift to home, and you can end up feeling sorry for yourself instead of jumping into activities on campus.
College is a whole new ballgame when it comes to time management—you have more control over your schedule than you did in high school, and it’s a learning curve to find the balance between overscheduling yourself and leaving too many free hours. If you find you have more hours than you know what to do with, you can always go to one of the many events your school offers or walk down the hall to find a new friend.
Establish a schedule
Beyond your class schedule, establish life patterns such as working out at a specific time or doing your laundry on Wednesdays. Settling into a routine will give you fewer choices to make on a daily basis, which can be exhausting. Also, if you have a special weekly routine that’s solely for you, such as getting a pastry on Saturday mornings, you’ll have more to look forward to throughout your week.
Find “your spot” in your new setting
One reason going to college can be difficult to deal with is that everything is different and new. Establish yourself in your new town by locating a new go-to spot. Depending on your personality, this could be a specific coffee shop, a corner of the library, or a particular park near campus. You’ll feel more connected with the community around your school if you don’t just immediately return to your dorm whenever you have the chance. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic, exploring your new town will look a little different this year than in the past. However, it’s still possible to get out and about, especially in the outdoorsy parts of your new environment. Just don’t forget to bring your mask!
Talk to an upperclassman
Finding someone a year or two older than you to talk with about your homesickness and adjustment to college life can be a lifesaver. They’re close enough to their own freshman year that they’ll remember how they coped with the same feelings that you’re going through and be able to offer valuable advice. They can also be an example to you of someone who came out on the other side of this massive mountain of going to college, which can be really encouraging to your own journey.
Related: Top 5 Tips for Having the Best College Experience
Take care of yourself
Our mood is highly affected by our health and habits. Without a parent there to tell you what to eat for dinner or when to go to bed, it can be easy to let your health sink to the bottom of your priority list. Getting enough sleep each night, consciously eating fruits and vegetables, and proactively seeking out opportunities for exercise will do wonders for your mood. When your body is happy, your mood will reflect that.
Remember what you used to do to relax
In the flurry of arriving at college, you may have forgotten about the hobbies you dedicated yourself to before. Leaving that part of your life behind can bring an added layer of stress, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up on them. Anuj advises students to get involved with clubs that mirror their favored activities from high school. If you were involved in theater, try out for a play. If you were in a political group, consider continuing your affiliation at the collegiate level. Perhaps you played a specific sport? There are lots of club and intramural sports to choose from at college.
Whatever your hobby is, you can find a way to connect with it on your campus. Even if COVID-19 regulations have greatly curtailed the activities you can choose from, do your best to get involved somewhere, at some level. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, it may be the perfect time to try something new. Having something to do beyond your classes will help occupy your mind and provide you with opportunities to make new friends.
Related: How to Turn Your Hobbies Into Scholarships
Look at the big picture
It’s okay to have rough days, and it’s totally understandable to want to go home at times—but this doesn’t mean you’re at the wrong college and should be looking to transfer next semester. Think back to the last time you started something totally new and how long it likely took you to get used to it. This is no different. Accept that there will be both good and bad days. And if all else fails, allow yourself time to be completely, miserably homesick. Eventually you’ll remember how boring it is to just feel sorry for yourself all day. In the end, college should be a great experience—and you’re only wasting your own time by not enjoying it. When you’re ready, let the homesickness wash away, and go back to trying to make your college experience the best that it can be.
Video: Homesickness in college
Student vlogger Jordan-Paige has even more advice on how to combat homesickness. Check out her video below!
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