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Stress: An Epidemic Among College Students

Each year, the number of students who apply to college increases. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), four percent more students applied to college in 2018 than in the previous year, yet only 65.4 percent of those students were accepted.

Applying to college is competitive, and students realize this. It is drilled into their heads by high school faculty to make themselves stand out, get the highest grades possible and take the most rigorous courses.

The NACAC confirmed these claims. They said that college admissions look most closely at grades, the rigor of high school curriculum, and test scores as the top determining factors for choosing incoming freshman. It is because of this that students are going into college stressed and overworked from even just getting accepted.

Students work hard to make their applications better than their peers’. They work part-time, volunteer, attend multiple extra-curricular activities, and still need to make time to keep straight-A grades.

Is getting into a top school worth all the hair-tearing-out and headaches?

The American Institute of Stress (AIS) said that incoming freshmen are becoming increasingly more aware of the stress college brings because of the rigorous application process. Despite this awareness, these students are not necessarily given healthy coping methods for managing stress.

Factors leading to college stress levels

The AIS said that students are not getting nearly enough sleep because of the amount of pressure put on their shoulders. They reported that eight in 10 college students experience frequent stress. But what is causing this number to be so alarmingly high?

First-time students living away at college are at risk for stress caused by being away from home for the first time. Even the students who do not think they will get homesick experience anxiety caused by being on their own. It is hard to leave the comforts of home with parents and family to support you for completely new, unchartered territory.

Students are also tasked with securing a whole new set of friends once they begin college. Many grew up with the same classmates throughout their education, so college is full of new faces and the potentially daunting task of making new friends.

Outgoing students might not struggle with social anxiety as much, but a lot of students isolate themselves out of fear of rejection. Being alone is a huge risk factor for stress because it is vital to have a friend to talk to about feelings of anxiety or sadness.

In addition to being away from home and having to maintain friendships, students have to keep up with multiple courses that require extensive assignments. The competition between students is high, motivating them to stay up until the wee hours of the night completing assignments so they do not fall behind.

Studying for assessments and writing papers are well-known aspects of the college experience. It is surprising, however, that the average full-time college student only spends 2.76 hours per day on education-related activities according to a study done by The Heritage Foundation.

This low number implies that students are spending more time on social and leisure activities and less time on educational tasks. They attempt to reduce stress through these activities but are ultimately falling behind and causing more stress by having to improve fallen grades.

It’s important to remember that these courses are expensive! Finances pose a problem to nearly every college student. Higher education isn’t cheap, even with financial aid and scholarships.

Living away from home also adds up because students want to go out with friends and buy food that is more appetizing than what the dining hall offers.

On top of making friends, getting acclimated to a new environment and balancing a new schedule, students have to work jobs to keep up with the expenses. Any time spent at a job means taking time away from educational tasks, like homework and studying.

College Board found that the average public four-year university costs over $20,000 per year, while private institutions cost more than $40,000 per year. This could be one of the reasons why 43 percent of full time and 81 percent of part time students are employed, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

What can we do?

The rising rate of stress in college students is revealing the very real need for mental health and counseling services on campuses. Many campuses offer these services but are struggling to keep up with the increasing rate of students coming in the door.

It is important to take these matters seriously. Eighty percent of students report feeling stressed sometimes or often, and 34 percent report having feelings of depression as reported by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

These intense feelings have the potential to lead to destructive decisions. Having counsellors available for students at all times is important to ensure student safety and aid in finding methods for dealing with stress.

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