Going Away For College: How To Cope With The Transition

Going away for college can be a difficult process. Here are ways to manage it. (Getty Images)

Between graduating from high school, to going to college, to moving away from home or entering the working world, there’s no shortage of changes young adults often face during their late teens and early 20s. Perhaps none of these transitions are grander than going away to college, and the challenges are plentiful, said psychotherapist Barbara Reichenthal.

One of the first obstacles people face upon their arrival at college is homesickness. Up to 70% of first-year students experience homesickness at some point, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report. Reichenthal, a board–certified diplomate in clinical social work who’s had her own private practice in New York for nearly 20 years, agrees that those entering college for the first time especially face homesickness.

“This may or may not – probably not – be the first time away, but it’s a huge change in status, no longer a kid living at home,” Reichenthal said. “That can be very exciting, but also really scary.”

After the initial homesickness passes, students face a multitude of other stressors, according to Reichenthal. These can range from getting good grades to getting along with a roommate, socially fitting in with your peers and making new friends, dating, and the pressure to drink or experiment with drugs for, potentially, the first time.

According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 51.5% of full-time college students ages 18-25 drank alcohol in the past month. When these situations arise, there can be outside pressure to conform — but Reichenthal says it’s important to not underestimate issues that crop up around drugs, drinking and other common issues like disordered eating, bullying, loneliness, sexual confusion, or confusion around identity.

“Talking with friends and peers is a good start, but often, there’s a fear of being bullied when disclosing certain worries,” she said. “In that case, there are student counseling programs on campus and there are other programs where students can get referrals for counseling to help with these issues.”

In addition to speaking with professionals, students not overlook family as people to lean on as resources, Reichenthal said. Family members often know each other best, and even though young adults may change or reinvent themselves after going away to college, it could be beneficial to seek time with a family counselor or therapist to help work through these difficult changes.

“Too many times, students or family members, and friends, underestimate how depressed or frightened a college student may be, and the student may keep spiraling down dangerously,” Reichental said. “Help them to help you by updating them appropriately when you need [to].”