Adjusting to the academic workload and homesickness

This week’s message for first-year families is about two common issues students face in their first few weeks of school: adjusting to the academic workload, and homesickness.

In college, each class has a syllabus that shows all assignments, papers, tests, and expectations for things like attendance. It’s important for your students to read their syllabi completely to understand what is expected of them. Your students will quickly realize the volume of college work is much greater – maybe reading a whole English novel or lengthy chapters of science texts in the course of just a few days. Your student may feel that in the first few weeks of college level math or chemistry, they’ve covered what took their high school teacher an entire year to teach. That can be unnerving.

Unlike high school, where students were in class from 8 or 9 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. with no break, college schedules are different. Some days you might have only 1 or 2 classes – or none at all. That leaves a lot of free time – and college is filled with fun distractions and temptations that you must balance with your academic work. Those who plan their activities – whether it is by using a paper calendar system/planner, phone calendar reminders, Google calendar or spreadsheet, etc. – tend to fare better and procrastinate less than students without a time management plan.

So an important early task for students is to figure out the best way to manage their new academic workload. They need to discern when and where they do their best studying and homework – is it right after class? in the morning? at night? in their room? outdoors? in the ZSR Library? Where on campus can I do my best work? What surroundings offer optimal concentration and minimal distractions? Those answers will be different for each student.

Families, please know that it is common for students to be nervous about the pace of the work, the expectations of the professors, and whether their schedule is going to be well-suited to their strengths. The first few weeks can be an anxious time as students adjust to the “new normal.”

Students studying in Tribble CourtyardIf your student seems nervous, one of the best bits of advice you can offer your student is to take their academic temperature early and often. They can ask themselves “Do I understand the course material? Am I getting it? Am I keeping up in class?” And if the answer to any of those questions is “no,” then the student needs to take control of the situation and get assistance.

class-tribbleThe first step should always be the student going to the professor’s office hours (time set aside each week when the professor will be available to meet with students) to go over course material and ask deeper questions. Students can also go to the Center for Learning, Access and Student Success (CLASS) for free tutoring or academic coaching. We also have free specialty academic assistance offices: the Computer Science Center, Writing Center,  Math and Stats Center, and Chemistry Center.

In terms of homesickness, that can come at different times. It could be as soon as you said goodbye to your student after Move-In, or when they are missing a milestone at home (a birthday, etc.). For some students, they might not feel homesick at all – and that is OK too.

So how can you help if you think your student is homesick?

Provide a comforting ear when your student calls/texts you. Remind your student that college is always an adjustment and it’s normal to miss home and miss high school friends.

Suggest that your student talk to others on their hall – roommate, hallmate, RA. There are likely other students feeling the same way, and they can bond together.

Send care packages. Some of your student’s favorite non-perishable foods from home can be a great comfort.  Hint: if you send enough to share, your student can knock on the doors of their hallmates to share the bounty and make a few friends that way.

Resist the urge to call or email them too much. Let your student set the schedule of how frequently they wish to talk to you.

Similarly, you don’t have to respond to a phone call or text from your student as soon as they send it. Sometimes it’s helpful for them to sit with their own feelings for a bit. Here’s an example: say they have a fight with their roommate. They might reach out to you immediately for comfort, to distract themselves from this fight and make themselves feel better. But it’s important for students to have a chance to feel their feelings – especially difficult ones – and sit with them for a while. In the short term, they might feel better having called you. But if you play the long game, they haven’t had a chance to realize “I had a fight with my roommate and I am angry and frustrated…but I am also OK.” We all need to learn that it is OK and normal to have bad days, or difficult emotions, but they pass, and we can live with them. That’s one way students learn to be resilient.

If you are concerned that your student is unusually homesick or depressed, you can suggest they talk to the hall RA or the University Counseling Center for additional support.

Finally, urge your student to be patient with the bumps in the road. The adjustment to new academic expectations and a new living environment takes time. The more your Deac can put the work in now, the sooner they will get to a place of comfort in their new home at Wake.


To contact the Office of Family Engagement or Family Communications, please visit our contact page.


For mental health assistance: 336-758-CARE (2273) is a service that ensures someone will always be available (i.e., 24/7 M-F, weekends and university holidays) to provide caring and thoughtful consultation services for Wake Forest students in need of mental health assistance or support.