Digest No. 02 - March 2017

Homesickness at College: Its Impact on Academic Performance and Retention

Sun, J., L.S. Hagedorn, and Y. Zhang. 2016. “Homesickness at College: Its Impact on Academic Performance and Retention.” Journal of College Student Development, 57 (8), 943–957.


Jie Sun, Linda Serra Hagedorn, and Yi Zhang ask the question: Does severe or intense homesickness of first-year college students negatively affect their academic performance and first-year persistence in college? The authors situate the problem of homesickness within the context of all the adjustments to college that students make during their first year. They note that students encounter many challenges such as living independently from their parents and making new friends. Sun et al. recognize that most first-year students experience some homesickness. Their concern, however, focuses on severe or intense homesickness that they contend negatively affects students socially and intellectually.

The authors conducted a secondary analysis of data collected from the MAP-Works survey distributed at a land-grant research university in the Midwest. MAP-Works is designed to identify at-risk students. This survey was administered to all first-year, first-time students in the fall semester enrolled at the focal university. Homesickness is one of the categories explored by this survey. The sample used by Sun et al. consists of 10,217 students who responded to the MAP-Works survey. They judge this sample to be representative of first-year, first-time college students at the focal university.

The authors conducted a factor analysis on the five items of the MAP-Works survey that measure homesickness. Examples of these include: “Do you miss your family-back home?” “Feel upset because you want to go home?” and “Think about going home all the time?” From the factor analysis, they identified two forms of homesickness: Homesick Separation and Homesick Distress. Unfortunately, the authors do not define either of these two forms of homesickness nor do they list the specific items that comprise them. Homesick Distress, however, is identified as the more serious of the constructs, while Homesick Separation is moderate in relationship to the former.

To determine the influence of these two severe forms of homesickness, the authors used ordinary least squares multiple regression and logistic regression. The authors assessed the influence of homesickness on first-semester GPA using multiple regression with controls for other factors that might also influence first-semester GPA. These control variables include student background characteristics, residency classification (in state or out of state), parents’ educational level, pre-college academic preparation (e.g., ACT scores and high school class rank), the college environment (on-campus or off-campus residence), and sense of belonging. Although a logistic regression was conducted, this same statistical design was used for first-year student persistence as the dependent variable.


Sun et al. learned that Homesick Distress negatively affects both first-semester GPA and first-year persistence of college students. As distress about being away from home increases, a student’s first semester GPA decreases and the likelihood of departing from college increases. In contrast, Homesick Separation exerts little or no influence on either first-semester academic performance or first-year student persistence.

The authors also found that students who enter college with low ACT scores,
are out-of-state residents, and have a low sense of belonging experience greater degrees of Homesickness Distress. These findings create a profile of students at risk for severe homesickness.


Because many CIC member institutions are residential and enroll students from out-of-state, student Homesickness Distress could constitute a problem for the adjustment of first-year, first-time students. This problem carries with it lower levels of academic performance and the likelihood for departure at the end of the first year.

Sun et al. offer some useful recommendations. Parents, students, and advisors should encourage students to have open discussions about the consequences of being away from home, such as missing family and friends. These discussions might take place during fall orientation for first-year students. In addition, open discussions could occur at different times during the first six weeks of the semester when homesickness distress may be problematic for students. The authors also suggest the use of social networking websites to forge student contacts and develop social support groups before students arrive on campus.


Jie Sun is an academic research analyst in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University.

Linda Serra Hegedorn is associate dean of the College of Human Scienc-es at Iowa State University.

Yi Zhang is assistant professor of higher education at the University of Texas at Arlington.


The following references are recommended for readers who want to learn more about homesickness.

Fisher, S. 1989. Homesickness, Cognition and Health. London, England: Erlbaum.

Giddan, N.S. 1988. Community and Social Support for College Students. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Thurber, C.A., and E.A. Walton. 2007. “Preventing and Treating Homesickness.” Pediatrics, 119, 192–201.

Thurber, C.A., and E.A. Walton. 2012. “Homesickness and Adjustment in University Students.” Journal of American College Health, 60, 1–5.