It’s September. Time for college football, pumpkin spice lattes, and, if you’re the parent of a brand-new college freshman, possibly some difficult phone calls.
I personally love college football but can’t stand PSLs.
Whatever side of the coin you are on football and fall drinks, it’s fair to assume that nobody likes getting a call from their college freshman that includes some of these phrases:
I’m not making any friends.
I want to come home.
I don’t fit in.
I hate my major.
Those are tough, tough calls.
Advice for the Homesick College Freshman
So, what advice do you offer when your baby is homesick at college freshman year? There is no single perfect answer but I hope some of these suggestions might help.
College Freshman Homesickness Statistics
It may or may not help your kid to know that she is not alone, but it’s worth a shot. Statistics show that while around one-third of college students experience homesickness, a whopping 69% of freshman experience severe homesickness. I was really surprised by that number. It's huge.
Homesickness is not just a few wistful pangs of sadness, it can actually be quite severe at times. Click here for an interesting read about the science of homesickness.
Science and stats don't take the pain out of not feeling like you fit in, I know. But hopefully knowing that more than 2/3 of their counterparts are feeling the same well will be of some comfort. At least then they will know that all of those sophomores, juniors, and seniors who likely went through a period of adjustment and came out just fine on the other side.
College Freshman Orientation Programs
One great resource is the early year orientation programs offered by just about all colleges and universities. Yes, those icebreaker activities are super awkward, but everyone is in the same boat so that helps.
Suggest that your child participate in anything offered and see what shakes out. Maybe nothing, but maybe he will meet a few people along the way.
I am a firm believer in the value of college activities for many reasons. In this particular context, there are few better ways to make some connections early on (and get out of that dorm room!) than joining groups.
This may be out of your student’s comfort zone. I get it. But there is no better time to join than right at the beginning of the school year, when everyone is in the same boat.
Have your student look into the offerings and take the plunge! What’s the worst that could happen? An hour or so ruling out an activity? Comparing that to the best that can happen, making lifelong friends or finding a new passion, it’s a no-brainer. Of course, most likely, the experience will fall somewhere in between and that is just what your student needs right now.
Give it Time
Your child already knows this, but reinforce it anyway. That first year in college is huge in terms of change. You know the list, first time on their own, first time taking college-level courses, first time away from home and so on and so on.
If somebody wrote a book on how to adjust to college life as a freshman, it certainly wouldn’t offer a quick fix. Change can be hard. Sometimes it just plain sucks. But, as we know from our own experiences, it does get better.
Make Some New Familiar Places
For better or worse, campus is now your child’s home. Routines can be great way to make their new home more “normal” to them. Maybe it’s a yoga group that meets certain days of the week or a favorite spot to pick up a morning coffee. Soon, it will be become familiar--and eventually “their” place. It may not be overnight and it may not ever evolve into the equivalent of Monk’s Diner, but it should help.
My College Freshman Wants to Quit!
This is a call that no parent wants to get! Some students will find themselves so overwhelmed that moving forward at college seems unachievable. They want to come home. They may bargain with you--”I’ll live at home and go to our hometown college” or “ I’ll try again next semester.”
While every situation is different, in the majority of cases, your freshman will make it! The safety and security of the known quantity: home, can be a powerful draw when you’re struggling. Encourage your child to give it some time (see above). Or engage in some bargaining yourself: “let’s get through this week and see how you feel after the weekend” or “give it a chance for three weeks, then we’ll arrange a weekend home and can talk about it.” Chances are, that time period will be enough for him or her to settle in and start to find their way.
Of course, you know your child best. If you sense there is more at play than the typical homesickness, follow your gut. Depression and suicidal ideation is real among college students and if you think your child is at risk, certainly take action. We’ll talk in a later post about helping a child who suffers from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues navigate freshman year.
Advice for the Parents of a Homesick College Freshman
- Be available, but try not to be a crutch, as much as you want to be one. That was really hard for me last year.
- Encourage your child to go out.
- Send a care package.
- When you talk to your child (or text or snapchat or whatever), focus on what they are doing at college, rather than what’s happening at home. Ask about their classes, their roomies, what they had for lunch, etc.
Good luck, parents! It can be a tough time for them (and us) but by next month's Freshman Year entry, I'll wager things will be much better.