College Student Homesickness: An Overview

The concept of college student homesickness has likely been around for as long as students have been leaving home to go to college. However, there are no universally-accepted definitions. Few measures of homesickness in college students exist. Little research has been conducted connecting homesickness directly to the experiences of college students and their academic success, and those that have been done are typically limited to a single campus.

This note explores the concept of homesickness in college students, using a national dataset of 120,967 first-year college students from 127 two and four-year institutions in the United States.

Key Questions:

  1. What is homesickness?
  2. How prevalent is homesickness in first-year students?
  3. What are the characteristics of students who are homesick?
  4. How is homesickness related to key outcomes?

Key Points:

  • Homesickness is broken down into two distinct concepts: separation and distress.
  • Both separation and distress are related to other aspects of first-year student experience, including commitment, satisfaction, peer connections, and social integration.
  • Homesickness, in particular distress, is related to key outcomes, including academic performance and retention

College student homesickness can have an effect on efficacy and retention.

Defining College Student Homesickness

Homesickness can be broken down into two factors: separation and distress. First, a person must be separated from something – a location, family, a culture, or something familiar. For instance, kids at camp are physically away from home and family. For international travelers, the separation can be not only from home and family but also familiar culture, food, locations, language, and traditions. Additionally, to be homesick, a person must also have distress: negative feelings or regret related to that separation. In other words, one can move away or be separated, but if they are not distressed, then there is no homesickness present. The contrast is also true: one can be distressed or upset and even experience similar symptoms. But, if that distressed is not caused by a separation, it is not homesickness.

Prevalence of Homesickness

Figures 1 and 2 in the research note display the percentage of students responding extremely (1 or 2 on a seven-point scale), moderately (3-5), and not at all (6-7) on questions in both the separation and homesickness scales. There is a significant difference in the reported prevalence of both homesickness concepts in first-year college students. Separation homesickness is a widespread and common component of the first-year student experience, with 30% of students reporting high levels of separation homesickness. However, distress is not common, as few first-year students reported high levels of distress homesickness.

Fill out the form to the right to download the full research note, and check out our blog, “A Decade of Homesickness Research: What We’ve Learned” for more insights on the topic.