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Freshman Fears

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Credit to Mackcat.

In fiction, the freshman yearnote  of education at a secondary or tertiary school is a struggle.

The main reason is that the character is new at the school, which undoubtedly is a different environment from their earlier school, and may be scared because of their expectations for their first year at a higher school. Another reason for their fears is more studying, meaning that the character has less time devoted to subjects that they enjoy. Then there is socialization, like peer pressure and love interests, which begin to be relevant in freshman years, mostly for middle and high school students, as hormones start running high. They will usually face bullying, usually from a Jerk Jock for males or an Alpha Bitchnote  for females. Underclassmen might also face various forms of hazing; for some these are silly rites of passage, but in extreme cases, they veer into abuse.

They also tend to be at the bottom of whatever social hierarchy in general, especially when they may have been at the top wherever they're coming from, e.g. the biggest kids in middle school become high school freshmen, and so on, thus losing their popularity in their new stage of education.

Can be Truth in Television. Some freshmen may be anxious with more schoolwork, as well as love interests and peer pressure, and yes, there have been many cases of bullying and hazing of freshman students, particularly from upperclassmen.

In fiction at least Kindergarteners have been known to be nervous about going to "big school" for the first time and not knowing anybody there, in which case they might be reassured about an older sibling being at school with them if they have one.

May have some overlap with Wake Up, Go to School & Save the World, especially if the certain freshman student is also a superhero. Might involve a First Day of School Episode, though Freshman Fears can happen throughout the student's first year. Often this involves Everyone Meets Everyone or Welcome Episode, where what goes on to be a long-standing ensemble throughout a school story comes together when the characters are freshmen due to these struggles.

Compare with Naïve Newcomer and College Is "High School, Part 2". Also compare with both Senior Year Struggles, which is about characters in their last year of secondary or tertiary education, and Second Year Protagonist, a trope about characters who are in their sophomore year, which is employed mainly for the sake of enabling writers to explore the topic of being a student while preventing avoiding certain issues pertaining to freshmen (such as being new) and seniors (such as graduation) from affecting the plot.


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  • In a McDonald's commercial from the 1980s called "First Day," a boy encounters all kinds of problems on his first day of high school, including being the shortest person in gym, running afoul of the hall monitors, and attending the wrong class. The accompanying song also discusses this trope in the lyrics.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bratz: The very beginning of the film involves the main characters starting high-school together and discovering that their school runs on cliques. They're slowly forced apart as they discover their new niches and end up fitting in better with other groups than with each other before the Time Skip kicks in.
  • Dazed and Confused begins with the senior football players brutally hazing all the freshmen on the last day of school. The rest of the film involves Randall, the protagonist, mentoring a freshman who survived the hazing.
  • In the live-action Kim Possible remake, Kim is going into her Freshman year. She has no fears at first but suffers a horrible and humiliating first day. Her subsequent experience is not much better as she is outshone at every turn. But it ultimately works out.
  • Master:
    • Jasmine has just entered the college as a freshman and one of VERY few Black students on campus. She's made miserable by oppression in the college, struggles to make friends, and to improve her grades, culminating in her potential suicide or supernaturally-influenced murder.
    • Her roommate and fellow freshman Amelia is gang-raped in the woods and quits college as a result.
  • Minutemen: Virgil and Charlie became best friends because, on the first day of high school, they were both hung up on the school's statue by a bunch of Jerk Jocks. This makes Virgil drift apart from his old best friends, who both remained pretty popular, while he became a nerd.

  • In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie is a high school freshman who is shy and withdrawn at first but comes out of his shell after being taken under the wing of a group of seniors.
  • The Scholomance: Freshmen are the biggest casualties of any one year at the Scholomance (even shockingly easy years like in the second book). They're the weakest wizards in the school and the most numerous, making them the prime targets for mals; at the bottom of the social hierarchy, so most of the upperclassmen, even stragglers and losers, have no issues taking advantage of them; and aren't used to life at the Scholomance yet, so they don't have the in-built reflexes and survival skills that their older peers have already developed. Those who don't learn quick are gradually winnowed out until only those who have what it takes to at least make it to next year, if not all four years, are left.
  • In Tantei Team KZ Jiken Note, one of the first problems Aya meets when she enters junior high is its social dynamics. She is appointed the Class Representative for some reason, but the local Alpha Bitch and her posse immediately ignores her, owing to a rumour about class appointees being the top student of the homeroom (which is Truth in Television in some Japanese schools). This is where Sunahara enters her life; he saves her by asking the class to keep quiet and invites her to start again. Aya's response? Because You Were Nice to Me.
  • Whateley Universe: Almost every protagonist has an origin story involving their mutant Puberty Superpower and getting enrolled into the boarding school of Whateley Academy as a freshman, getting a Love Interest, and forming a group of friends to stand against the superpowered bullies of their new school.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Full House: on Stephanie's first day of kindergarten, she clings to DJ; on Michelle's first day of kindergarten, she goes looking for Stephanie during the school day and ends up disrupting her class.
  • Boy Meets World: Season 2 opens with Corey and Shawn starting high school and going through a particularly rough first day. They find out they don't share all their classes, try to get in the good graces of a bully named Harley, but the man they initially mistake for him turns out to be a teacher (though at least a cool one), Cory gains the ire of the real Harley and he gets sent to the principal's office where he finds out his former teacher, Feeny, is now the principal. Near the end, Cory is forced into a fight with Harley but is saved by Eric and the new teacher, Mr. Turner. While he worries about how the rest of the high school experience will play out, he does acknowledge it's not as bad as he thought.
  • Girl Meets World: There's an arc focusing on the kids' first days in high school. They struggle to adjust because everyone is so much bigger and more prepared than they are, and can't fit in the way they did in middle school. They even end up hazed, as some seniors force them to stay in a spot under the stairs, which convinces everyone but Riley to say Screw This, I'm Outta Here, temporarily ditching her to try and survive high-school. However, they eventually manage to reconnect and learn An Aesop about sticking together even as they grow and change.
  • In the first high school episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm is incredibly concerned with becoming popular. However, an embarrassing encounter with his mother earns him the nickname "Stain," which shows no signs of dying down. This escalates to Malcolm attempting to crash his mother's car in a desperate attempt to change face.
  • The Suite Life of Zack & Cody: One episode focuses on all the characters going to the first day of their new high school. Zack tries to flirt with a girl who has a boyfriend, London makes friends by paying everyone to like her, and they all end up in detention.
  • Two and a Half Men: Alan and Charlie accidentally inflict this on Jake when he's just starting high school. Alan goes into vivid detail about some of the horrors he faced as a freshman, with Charlie providing context. This extends to the pair helping Jake pick out school clothes that won't get him beat up for either being too expensive or gang colors. Ultimately this unnerves the boy so much that he hops off the bus on its way to school and spends the day reading comics in Malibu.
  • Sarcastic Conversational Troping by Carla in the Scrubs episode "My First Step", when Carla decides against entering a nurse-practitioner program, because she's proud of the job she does, and Cox says that, for the record, she'd ace it.
    Carla: Well, what if the classes are too hard? What if the teachers are mean? What if the other kids don't like me? Of course I would ace that program!
  • In Season 4 of Ugly Betty, Justin deals with the challenges of public high school after failing to get into his dream private school. His biggest problem is homophobic bullying, though he doesn't actually come out until well into the season. Marc, who also went to a public high school, takes Justin under his wing and teaches him how to laugh off the bullies' taunts and make friends with the cheerleaders.

    Video Games 
  • In Growing Up, several characters tell you how nervous they are about starting high school, and you can agree with them or be more optimistic.
  • Implied in The Sims 4 with the Wall o’ Gym Lockers, Large, which the description mentions that it give nostalgia of high school gym class, and that it stores everything short of freshman hazing victims.

    Western Animation 
  • Bluey: In "Barky Boats", the twelve-year-old Captain and Mia talk about how they'll be starting "big school" next year, and Mia admits to being nervous about it.
  • Cow and Chicken: An episode featuring Chicken, Flem, and Earl starting middle school sees the trio getting hazed by a pair of lunkhead upperclassmen, particularly with regard to the practice of showering after PE. This proves so traumatic for the three of them, that they decide to NOT go to middle school after all.
  • Doug: The Disney version starts off with the characters getting ready for middle school and not sure what to expect going into it, ranging from what their new teachers will be like to fears of now being the youngest students there and being bullied by the seniors.
  • Arthur: in "The Last Day" D.W. has an anxiety attack over what she thinks is to be expected of her as a new kindergartner and breaks down and cries. Of course, this is retconned at the beginning of the next season, where all of the children turn out to be in the grade they finished at the end of the previous school year.
  • Family Guy: In "Jungle Love", Chris starts high school, and finds himself subjected to the "freshman hunt", where the seniors relentlessly hunt down new students. Even Lois gets in on the act, honking her car horn and announcing Chris is a freshman after dropping him off. Chris suffers so much from this that he decides to volunteer for Peace Corps work in South America in an effort to escape. Unfortunately, when the tribespeople learn he's a freshman, they chase after him too.