First-Year Students

There are so many things about the first year of college, including new opportunities and tons of fun things to experience. But there are also plenty of reasons why you might feel stress during this first year of school. It’s normal to feel stress during times of change (it’s how we adapt to our environment!) and part of coping well with stress is knowing where it comes from. Below are some of the most common reasons why first-year students may be stressed out.

“It’s all new!”

The excitement of being in a new town, new school, and with new peers can be huge, but it can also be disorienting. You may be new to Richmond, new to Virginia, or even new to the United States, and getting your bearings when nothing feels familiar can be tough and overwhelming. You might be missing things that felt good about home such as family, friends, or partners, and it’s okay to feel the tension of adjusting to a new place. Hear about how other first-year students have felt about their first year of school.

“There’s so much to do…”

College courses mean a whole new level of commitment and organization, which may be hard to handle at first. Trying to balance your studies with other activities (friends are important too!) or jobs can feel daunting. Classes may also be more specific or more challenging than your previous experiences, which can bump up the stress.

“It’s so expensive..”

Being on your own might come with a new set of financial challenges, and between textbooks, dorm/rent costs, food, and entertainment, it can be hard when money is tight. To help with essentials that may be hard to come by at times, be sure to check out the RAM Free Store (art supplies, home goods, electronics) or Ram Pantry (fresh produce and other food staples). For help with tuition costs, it’s always a good idea to talk with the Financial Aid Office to see if there are scholarships or other grants available to you. There are resources to help stretch your budget if needed, and we hope you’ll reach out.

How do I know when it’s too much?

While it’s normal to experience stress during the changes of your first year, there are some signs to watch out for that might mean it’s time to seek help. When you start noticing these red flags in yourself or in friends, it’s a good idea to reach out to someone you trust at VCU.

Red Flag #1: “I just can’t seem to keep up with day-to-day things like taking care of myself.”

  • It’s tough to keep up with things like showering/bathing, having enough clean clothes around (i.e. laundry day keeps getting pushed back), or even things like brushing your teeth or caring for your hair.
  • It’s hard to find the energy to make or get food for yourself (if you’re on a meal plan or don’t have a kitchen).
  • You’re not able to get at least 2-3 meals per day, either because your appetite is low, you feel nauseous/queasy/anxious, or you are too busy to ensure you’re eating enough.
  • You have big changes in sleeping habits, either sleeping too much or too little. It also might be time to ask for help if you’re sleeping enough (per your body’s preference) but are still feeling exhausted or needing to take naps every day.

Red Flag #2: “It feels like drinking is taking on a life of its own..”

  • While some students can experiment with alcohol/other drugs and not have difficulties in other areas of their life, a lot of people struggle to keep up with responsibilities if they’re using often
  • It’s a good idea to seek help if you’re finding that you’re not able to complete homework, attend classes, maintain relationships, are missing work, or have physical health problems as a result of alcohol or drug use. The good folks at RAMS in Recovery are an excellent place to start for resources on reducing alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, or other substance use. You’ll find a supportive, non-judgmental community of students and professionals who want to help you thrive.

Red Flag #3: “I just can’t bring myself to go to classes anymore... I’m so behind.”

  • When things get overwhelming, sometimes it feels easier to not engage. If you notice you’re skipping classes often, haven’t completed assignments in awhile, or don’t know where to start to get back on track, it’s a good idea to reach out for help.

Red Flag #4: “I don’t feel like myself anymore, and things just feel awful.”

  • It’s really common for first-year students to experience struggles related to their mental health, whether they had a diagnosis coming into college or are having difficulties for the first time.
  • If you feel like you’re not yourself, whether it’s because of changes in mood, energy, motivation, appetite, social habits, or functioning, you’re not alone and there are people who are ready to help!

Green Light: You can reach out whenever you feel like it!

  • Congratulations! You have the go-ahead to seek help in whatever way makes sense to you, whenever you think you need it. Some people wait until they think it’s “bad enough” to ask for help, and we’re here to dispel that myth and encourage you to get a second opinion as you feel you need it. For example, at University Counseling Services, our clinicians are trained to listen to your concerns and make recommendations based on what you’re experiencing. These recommendations could include therapy services, but also might be helping connect you to other available supports on campus or self-help resources to get you back on track.


Here at VCU we have tons of resources available to help you find your home and find your groove in your first year of college.

Within VCU

  • University Counseling Services
    • Advocacy Services: Our confidential advocates are especially equipped to help students who have experienced intimate partner or sexual violence, and are here to support you.
    • Reclaim Anxiety Skills Group: Learn how to quiet those anxious thoughts and manage anxiety in healthy ways
    • Interpersonal Process Group: Understand yourself and your relationships to others better as you practice relating to others in a safe, therapeutic space. This is a fantastic resource for processing how your family dynamics and past relationships impact your ability to be in relationships now.
    • Individual Counseling
    • Workshops
  • Campus Learning Center
    • Academic Coaching can help you learn to organize, prioritize academic tasks, and how to make the most of your study time.
    • Find options for tutoring
  • Student Organizations: Find a list of active student organizations. There are so many options, and finding “your people” can be a wonderful part of joining a student group you’re passionate about.
  • Residence Life: Check in with your RA or contact housing if you have questions or concerns about roommates, your living situation, or just generally need support. They can also help point you in the right direction for other resources on campus.
  • Greek Life


There are also lots of resources available to you online! Below are a few of our favorites.