Going away to college can be frightening and exciting. It can be an experience that the student has been prepared for, or it can be a first step in failure for the young adult. There are all types of students and all types of experiences for each.
A student who has been encouraged to take care of himself through high school should have an easier time. If a student has an alarm clock and uses it without needing mom or dad to pull him out of bed, he has made his first successful step. The student needs to be able to feed himself without supervision. Will he fix breakfast? Something besides cold pizza or a piece of cake? Will he eat a decent meal in the cafeteria for lunch or supper? Does he think that lunch comes out of vending machines? Can he do his laundry? Can he change a bed? Does he have a clue about handling money? Everyone who leaves high school needs these skills but many do not have them.
If the student is attending college, does he have a clear idea of why he is attending? Does he have a major? Does he want to attend classes and achieve a good grade point average? Does he want to make friends who have goals that complement his? If he wants to have a good time on the weekend, does he know when to leave a party? Does he know what he can handle if the beer is flowing? How responsible is he?
If the student has to work, will he show up for work? Can he juggle his time so he can study, work, and socialize? Even with his understanding of responsibility, he is the most likely to be the homesick one. He is doing normal things to care for himself but the people who taught him how to be an adult are far away. He will be the one to miss the family. If he has changed climates or scenery, he will have to adjust. When the ocean turns to mountains, at first they are lovely but eventually he wants just a breath of sea air again. If the student has moved from the sunny South to the cold North, the first snow fall is pretty and then it becomes very cold and wet. All these things happen that first semester and it is easy to long for home.
Another type of student has very little chance of returning for the second year. The student always sleeps through the alarm clock. He is always late or skips class. The freedom is too much. He can plan his own classes and he isn’t honest with himself about how early he can get up. He thinks that he can have his classes from 7 until 11 and be free the rest of the day. He intends to go to class but he sleeps through the alarm. He never goes to bed because no one tells him that it time to sleep. He parties often and for hours. Sometimes he does not leave but falls asleep right there on the floor. It doesn’t matter that he has a paper due. He never does a reading assignment because he thinks he will do it all at once the night before the mid-term. It never occurs to him that there will be four or five mid-terms and several thousand pages to read and learn. He never knows how many classes he has skipped. He has a very good time until his parents see the grades or a note about probation.
Sometimes the first shock of failure will cause the party animal to realize that he isn’t home anymore. No one is making him behave but no one is taking care of him either. He may have been attending parties and keeping himself with a buzz to keep from feeling homesickness. The shock of his family’s disappointment probably brings him to an instructor for help. Suddenly he learns that this isn’t high school. If he hasn’t been in class or hasn’t tried to look like a student, the instructor probably doesn’t pat his head and tell him that everything will be okay. The student will get the facts. He has to climb out of the hole he has dug for himself. Instructors can be understanding and very helpful for students who actually have a problem. Most of the time, an instructor tells a class at the beginning that they have a responsibility to be in class and do the work. If you won’t, the instructor pays more attention to a student who wants to learn.
During the first months, there are many adjustments to a new life. It is so different that most students will look back home with wishful thinking. Some will seek out someone they trust. If the student shares the feelings, he usually finds out that others around him are experiencing the same thing. Going to college moves the student out of his comfort zone. This is a big first risk. Of course, there is fear and anxiety of failing. It is a real challenge not to run back to the nice, warm nest.
If the student is shy or without self-confidence, he is more likely to need some support by other students or the teacher or a counselor. Most college classes don’t give a great deal of feedback to a student. If the class has a mid-term and a final, it is spooky. The student with little confidence can imagine failing over and over again in that time. They need to be reminded that they are keeping up their work. They do attend class. They might need to speak up in class more often so they will be noticed and not lost in a crowd. Home can look great as the first year floats by and all the changes are scaring the student with no self-confidence.
Most universities have a counseling center to help the homesick student or any student with a problem at school. Any student can walk through the counseling doors. They will find the counselor or tutor a student needs to help make college a success.