The Rhythm of the Year*

First year is universally challenging to students. Understanding what your student may be experiencing can help you be an effective support person. While no two students will experience first year in exactly the same way, there are predictable ups and downs:


  • Students in a Lecture

  • excitement
  • doubts about choice of school
  • tendency to test new limits and boundaries
  • for new students, frequent calls/visits home
  • anxiety about roommates/peers
  • anxiety about professors
  • anxiety about intellectual competency
  • first round of tests/assignments at end of month
  • anxiety/conscious about financial situation


  • roommate problems begin to arise
  • concerns about social climate (“Do I fit in here?”)
  • struggling with intellectual competency
  • first marks may be returned
  • midterm exams beginning
  • relationships from home still going strong
  • receiving pressure and expectations to perform well from home


  • Midterms grades returned
  • roommate problems getting more serious
  • lots of exams/papers due
  • pressure building re: course work
  • feelings of incompetency set in/or a sense things will be okay
  • stress levels high


  • anxiety about going home for holidays surface
  • anxiety/sleeplessness regarding preparation for finals
  • sadness about leaving new relationships
  • for first-year students, anxiety over next term classes
  • feelings of missing out on holiday fun due to studying, exams, sense of being cheated


  • disappointment/excitement regarding first term grades
  • seeing this as a time to make a ‘fresh start’
  • relief at being away from home/back at school
  • loneliness for relationships back home
  • homesickness


  • feelings of claustrophobia - campus is getting ‘smaller’; weather is affecting moods, etc.
  • tempers short, tension level quite high
  • increase in alcohol substance abuse
  • breakup of relationships back home


  • anxiety begins over choosing/finding roommate(s) for the following academic year
  • disappointment on the part of those students who can’t afford to travel over spring break
  • anxiety over midterm exams
  • focus on body image
  • nervousness over registering for courses


  • excitement over arrival of fine weather and term ending
  • panic over not finding a roommate(s)/of being abandoned
  • end of term pressure begins
  • for graduating students, the feelings surrounding separation issues become intense
  • anxiety over final exams
  • apprehension about returning home for the summer
  • sadness over losing touch with new friends
  • sadness over losing contact with relationship

Throughout the entire year

  • anxious about what they will do when they are done university
  • anxious about finances
  • anxious about intellectual ability
  • missing birthday celebrations at home (theirs and others)
  • missing holiday celebrations at home (including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving, Passover, Easter etc)
  • missing special family-specific traditions
  • feeling left out of decision making regarding family matters, important or not (e.g.: buying a car, getting a new pet, home renovations, etc.).

*From The Rhythm of the Academic Year, Austin and Sousa, 1991; Chickering and Reisser, 1993.