For incoming first-year students, the start of college ushers in a new wave of excitement for some, while for others it brings about feelings of overwhelm and stress. For many, it’s a blend of all emotions, highlighting the crucial need for guidance through the initial stages. 

Fairfield University’s First Year Experience (FYE) program provides new students with an outlet through their first semester with the support of New Student Leaders (NSL). 

Kevin Wilson, an NSL at Fairfield, emphasizes, “The most important thing first-year students take from FYE is the connections they make. Learning that you are not alone is a big emphasis by FYE especially early in the semester.” 

The scope of FYE extends beyond academics, delving into topics such as hookup culture, making new friends, the presence of alcohol in college and other social dynamics. 

While FYE has always been valuable, its significance became even more apparent with myself and my peers in the graduating Class of 2024. As incoming first-year students at the height of the pandemic in 2020, we needed to adapt to university protocols on top of adjusting to a new chapter in our lives. 

I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed going to my FYE classes at the time, especially during these unprecedented circumstances, but as a senior reflecting on these last four years, I’ve come to realize that the topics and skills taught in these sessions are pivotal for any college kid to be aware of. 

If anyone needed a resource during difficult times, the NSLs made themselves available to all of the students. This is even more important when looking at how prevalent mental health issues are on college campuses. In a 2022-2023 data report done by The Healthy Minds Network, 20% of the students paneled identified that they had been going through severe depression and 41% indicated that they went through depression in any form at all. 

Having a peer like an NSL, who is similar in age, is so important and can be the only accessible mental health resource available from the onset for incoming first-years, as they are still getting acclimated to their friendships. Also, the thought of seeking counseling services from the onset may seem daunting for some individuals, but all of this was amplified even more during the years of the pandemic. 

To reiterate, I won’t claim that FYE magically reshaped my college experience, but it undoubtedly presented me with a valuable resource for addressing questions and concerns, benefiting countless others as well. 

Whether people like to admit it or not, college life is not an easy transition for anyone, making the FYE program so critical for initial guidance in the first few months of what evolves into a transformative four-year journey of personal growth and development.

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