Why Is It Important to Support First-Year Students?

“College began to feel like a pressure cooker.”

“It almost seems like they’re setting you up to fail.”

“I found myself crying uncontrollably.”

Nelly Spigner, a former student at the University of Richmond, shared her experience being a freshman at college in an interview to the Time magazine. Her hectic schedule, as a soccer player and an aspiring surgeon, started to take a toll on her mental health just as she began her first year at college.

Why Is It Important to Support First-Year Students?

The levels of anxiety were rising very quickly, as Nelly found herself unable to attend classes, leave her dorm room, avoiding professors, friends, and even losing her appetite. Looking for mental health support and seeking help at the college’s counseling center didn’t seem like an option, because everyone seemed to be fine around her. “It seemed like I was the only one with a problem.”

However, Nelly was (and is) far from being the only college student alone in experiencing anxiety and depression. And going through these experiences is not only a concern for freshmen students. As students advance to the second and third year of college, they find themselves under even more pressure. So, this is not a matter of simple adjustment and a habit. This is a matter of how well colleges are able to support their students’ mental (and physical) health.

A Long-Existing Issue

Active surveys on high levels of anxiety and mental health in students already began in 2012-2013. According to the survey done by the American Psychological Association (APA) back in 2013, 95% of college counseling center directors said that deterioration of mental health among college students was a growing concern.

This survey also found that most students experience anxiety and depression, while others come to counseling because of relationship problems.

Besides, 24.5% were reportedly taking psychotropic medications, and 21% of students came to counseling centers with severe mental health concerns.

Despite these troubling numbers, you can draw a conclusion from this survey that at least 15% of students still feel hesitant to discuss their mental health or don’t consider counseling as a helpful option. And even despite the fact that colleges become increasingly aware of mental health problems among students, this is still a growing concern that colleges have to deal with.

Current State of the Issue

According to the 2018 report by the American College Health Association, 60% of first-year students said they experienced overwhelming anxiety, while over 40% struggled with depression. This marks a lack of support of students as a concern that doesn’t seem to decrease.

It is worth admitting that both colleges and students are becoming more open about mental health issues they deal with.

With the support of college counseling centers, students take initiatives to create associations to support mental health. Christopher Biehn, a student at Ithaca College, shared his experience creating a campaign to promote acceptance of mood disorders in a recent interview to The New York Times.

Christopher was overseen by the crisis team and a college mental health professional to help him treat his bipolar disorder. During 4 years of college, Mr. Biehn had to take 6 medical leaves of absence to go back to his hometown for advanced treatment.

It is, however, worth mentioning that college took the active part in allowing Christopher not only to take proper care of his mental health but also to support him in sharing his story and inspiring students to be more vocal about their mental health issues.

Nevertheless, a number of colleges still don’t show enough support and don’t see mental health issues as their major concern. Some colleges place a restriction on the number of times a student can visit a counselor, while others have students on waiting lists for months because of lack of counselors.

While colleges slowly start accepting this reality, more and more future students list the presence of proper mental health services among other priorities when choosing a college. They are aware of the possibility to face mental health deterioration as they become freshmen at a college or university, and they want to be prepared for it.

Exploring the Reasons

As the lack of mental health support at colleges and universities is still a growing concern both for students and healthcare professionals, and the presence of proper mental health services is among the top requirements, let’s take a closer look at the reasons why it is important to support first-year students.

  1. Financial Hardships

Being financially independent is not something that every student can boast about. The majority of freshmen enter colleges already aware that they will have to face college debt. This puts them under pressure of finding extra sources of income, like a part-time job or a potential scholarship.

Speaking numbers, current student loan debt in the U.S. is $1.5 trillion, according to Forbes. This is a crisis in American education and economy that inevitably affects the emotional and physical well-being among American students.

Furthermore, according to The Wall Street Journal, each graduate student owes around $30,000. Now, imagine a first-year student being aware of how much money they will have to pay back after they finish college, without even having a secure job or any other source of income.

This places immense pressure on former highschoolers, being thrown in the reality of adult life without having a clue how to deal with it. This inevitably affects their academic performance, as their mental health deteriorates because of anxiety caused by a lot of confusion.

Colleges and universities are responsible to create counseling centers to guide students not only through the options of secure income but also through mental health issues they might face as a result of financial hardships.

  1. Building Awareness

Most first-year students, though having a lot of talent and potential, still lack emotional intelligence. They lack awareness of what causes certain emotions, they don’t know how to find the source of their stress, and they don’t understand how to acknowledge the way they feel and seek counseling to solve their issues.

Creating counseling centers is important not only to support students who already face mental health complications. It also can serve as a way to educate them on how to become more emotionally resilient.

Students have to face more and more demands, as they advance to their second and third year of college, leaving them unable to sometimes even deal with basic issues. They need proper guidance, which college counseling centers can offer.

  1. Lack of Proper Guidance

Most first-year students enter colleges and universities completely clueless about how to organize and manage their time. Students name the following issues among the causes of their stress and anxiety:

  • workload;
  • hectic schedule;
  • lack of sleep;
  • living arrangements;
  • difficult acculturation (among foreigners), etc.

These reasons are caused by the lack of guidance provided by their college or university. Three decades of research have shown that the levels of stress because of the lack of guidance have grown dramatically since 1985:

Credit: Higher Education Today

It is true to say that first-year students are still kids that are being thrown into adult life. Thus, treating them as adults and leaving them to resolve their problems is not the correct approach to the problem.

Rather, colleges and universities should offer proper guidance to help students accommodate to the changes and educate them on how to manage their life on campus to avoid stress and mental health deterioration.

The Bottom Line

Mental health problems among first-year students remains a growing concern, which colleges and universities should acknowledge and work on. Students remain under a lot of pressure, and their mental health is affected by problems such as financial debt, lack of guidance, and low emotional intelligence.

This being said, it is the responsibility of colleges and universities not only to provide students with everything needed in order to get proper education, but also guide them, help them adjust, and offer them proper mental health support.


Lori Jones is a professional writer and an editor at WowGrade.net. Her articles are written with the intent to educate college personnel and healthcare professional about the necessity to help students take care of mental health. Lori’s articles offer deep insight into the problem of mental health as well as actionable advice.