Separation Anxiety and the Transition to College

We’ve passed the midpoint of the summer vacation break and parents and children are beginning to think about the upcoming school year. This is the time to start planning for new clothes and school supplies, including the dorm room items you’ll need if your child will be going off to college in the fall. Yet, with all the preparation parents make before their child goes away for the first time, often neither they nor the child think about separation anxiety and the emotional aspects of the transition to college.

New college freshmen often “talk big” about how glad they are going to be when they can finally get out on their own, but this may be just their bravado speaking. The first semester of college can be very stressful for your teen – many don’t realize that they’ll have to manage their day to day existence by themselves and won’t have their parents to fall back on. Also, it isn’t just the student who can have some problems coping – often parents struggle to adjust to this new phase of life without their teen and find themselves going through a bout of separation anxiety when their child leaves for school.

Even the most independent person can experience some homesickness in college during the first few weeks (or even months) in their new environment. They’ll have to make new friends, adjust to living with a roommate, and learn to navigate a new routine. If they have feelings of inadequacy before their transition to college, those emotions will be amplified, at least for a while.  Additionally, the child’s identity can be shaken during the transition to college – familiar peers who have given them a sense of “where they fit in” will no longer be around and the new freshman will have to figure out where they belong in the new world they’ve entered. With all this stress, it’s no wonder that about 21 % of college students use illegal substances and approximately 45 % binge drink in order to cope.

Separation Anxiety Symptoms

The following separation anxiety symptoms can affect both teens and parents:

  • A feeling of helplessness, sadness, worry, or anger
  • Excessive worry, allowing your thoughts to run wild (“what if?” thinking)
  • Fear or reluctance to go off to school and leave the familiar comforts of home
  • Nightmares or trouble sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Stomachaches, loss of appetite
  • Crying
  • Racing heart, shortness of breath
  • Substance abuse

How to Help Your Child Deal with Separation Anxiety

It’s normal for children and parents to go through many of these separation anxiety symptoms during the first semester of college, but many are too embarrassed to seek help. Keep in mind that those who already suffer from a depression or anxiety disorder will require even more emotional support. Here are some ways you can help your new college student adjust to their transition to college:

  • Talk to your child before they leave for college and let them know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed as they adjust to their new life away from home.
  • Listen to your child and encourage them to talk about the stress they are feeling.
  • Encourage them to join a club, group such as a sorority or fraternity, or get involved in extracurricular activities as a way to make new friends.
  • Visit them at college if you are able (and if you are needed).
  • Educate yourself about the places your child can go for help, such as on-campus support groups or counseling centers. If necessary, get a referral to a nearby mental help therapist if there are no available resources at your child’s school.

Learn More

If you or your college student are suffering from the symptoms of college separation anxiety during the transition to college, we can help. Contact The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at 561-496-1094.


About Dr. Andrew Rosen

Dr. Andrew Rosen PHD, ABPP, FAACP is a Board-Certified Psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, as well as, the Founder of The Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services.

  1. Kilala

    Hi I have a question,
    My cild is extremely afraid in college. Although we live in a big city, and her college is in a small town, she has trouble fitting in with her peers and feeling comfortable around them. Despite having many people around her she is convinced none of them really care about her and therefore feels extremely lonely and left behind. Im not sure if she has anxiety disorder or what but she doest know how to fix it.

  2. Blair

    Hi i need some help. I graduated high school last year and was planning on going to a college about 2 hours away. I had to go in the summer because my SAT scores weren’t high enough, but two of my best friends had to do that as well so i thought it would be okay. The weekend we moved in was fun for the first two nights. then my parents left the third night and as i was getting ready for bed i started feeling sick and started having a panic attack out of no where. I had never had one before and this was new to me. They kept happening so i decided to come home with my parents. I kept having them throughout the summer and it was the most terrifying this i ever went through. Part of me has wanted to try to go off again with my friends and live my college years and i’m getting on medicine for my anxiety now. I really want to go back with my 3 best friends and live in a really nice apartment and go to school for a esthetician program where they go to school. I’m not sure what the best decision for me is. All i know is i don’t want to regret not going. My parents think it would be good for me and think since i’m on medicine it won’t happen again but i’m so scared but excited at the same time. Any advice?

  3. michelle

    hello,i feel cheated After 35 years of marriage my husband cheated on me, thanks to priest kala for helping me, he told me that he was no longer interested in marriage, I could not say what leads to this cause, we have never had a real fight that could lead to such a decision. I was much worse than I could not continue. One afternoon I was at home talking online with a close friend, reading an article, and seeing a comment on a married woman. It really struck me because I never thought it was possible, I thought and tried. So I did whatever he asked me and after the last seven days my husband came and asked me to forgive him that he wanted us to meet and that he now has more than five years. now we are a happy family. I am really grateful for this help for what it is for me, I mean her kindness. {Whatsapp {{ 17692085860}}}}}}}} :: :

    • Dr. Andrew Rosen

      Hi Michelle,

      Yes, we recently began treating internationally. Please contact us through the contact page to learn more about the options available.

  4. Christine Gatto-shea

    Any suggestions for students who are isolated at school because of the pandemic? Colleges do not seem to be doing a particularly good job welcoming them and assisting with the transition!

    • Dr. Andrew Rosen

      Hi Christine, Please contact us through the contact page for the options and support available for these students

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