College Students Report Stress Affects Academic Performance

Researchers at both Columbia University and the University of San Diego conducted a study to determine how stress negatively affects academic performance and enrollment. They were inspired by the fact that nearly 25% of students polled in the National College Health Assessment said that they experienced poor grades or unnrolled from classes as a result of stress.

“The important part that both institutions found is that it’s such an incredibly complex issue,” said Michael P. McNeil, director of health promotion at Columbia University. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be an answer. There’s going to be a series of things we do to address this.”

Each university examined different factors in their participants. Mary Baker, who was a researcher at San Diego at the time, said that much of the stress reported by her group was a result of socioeconomic status. Nearly all of the students surveyed at the beginning of the project in 2007 were white, with only 2% being black. This segment of the population reported being stressed out by racial slurs and damage to their personal belongings. The gay and lesbian group also reported heightened stress due to discrimination. Heterosexual students who held jobs were more likely to experience stress from their friends, families, and poor time management.

Overall, 75 percent of students at Columbia reported experiencing stress, and over one third of those said it had a negative impact on their academic abilities. Surprisingly, the students reported that some of the biggest stressors they experienced were “university administrative processes,” cramped housing, and the lack of healthy food choices at the universities. McNeil also notes that although positive coping techniques, such as displaying positive messages on student agendas, have been implemented, very few of the students surveyed listed counseling or therapy as a method of coping. The researchers believe that the stigma of mental impairment prevents students from seeking help through therapy.

Source: Grasgreen, Allie. (2011). Student Stress: Whose Is Worst? Inside Higher Ed:  insidehighered.com/news/2011/06/17/student_stress_factors_and_effects_presented_at_acha_meeting_of_college_health_educators

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Mills

    Mills

    June 22nd, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    Of course stress affects college students, and has an effect on their performance. Why would we think that it would not? It does for the rest of us so why not them? I mean this is a time when these students are trying to not only further their lives but to also figure out who they are. College in and of itself can be stressful but add to that the additional stresses of coming into your own and you can imagine what some of these kids are going through.

  • pearl

    pearl

    June 22nd, 2011 at 2:43 PM

    most students do not need an invitation to speak about how stress affects them.but the same students also do not need an invitation to binge drink,to door and to work odd jobs for the money to fund their hysterics.they are piling stress upon themselves with such activities if you ask me!

  • GL

    GL

    June 23rd, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    Stress dies affect productivity and the happiness that you feel in many things and it’s Bo different for students. Why,stress can make you feel down even when there’s something to celebrate. That’s what stress is,right? That is,of course,discounting the rare breed that performs better under stress.

  • Jim F. Harvey

    Jim F. Harvey

    June 23rd, 2011 at 11:36 PM

    In college, you’re dealing with three things at the same time. Academics, social life, and personal time. You get to pick two to handle reasonably well with what limited time that you have. There isn’t really a big solution because there’s not enough hours in a day to do them all well.

    And if it’s you’re first time away from home, you’re really going to be bad at time management because you’re used to your mom keeping you organized so of course it’s stressful. College isn’t supposed to be a playground anyway. Discrimination though should always be reported through the proper channels.

  • K.K. Saunders

    K.K. Saunders

    June 24th, 2011 at 9:47 AM

    @Jim: Perhaps we can petition God to add another six hours to the day and make humans no longer require food or sleep. ;)

    Unfortunately the world doesn’t work that way. The students are under pressure to keep up with everyone else. Got a part time job too to handle and are stressed? Welcome to the real world, students! That’s preparing you for working full time for a living for real.

  • Josh Cantu

    Josh Cantu

    June 24th, 2011 at 10:37 AM

    @K.K. Saunders: I think the keep up part is the root of at least some of the problems. If each student could do the course at their individual pace, they could then blow off a few classes the odd afternoon and catch up with their friends or go relax by themselves more often. That would help their stress.

    The ones who want to work at an accelerated pace that suits them would be free to do so and not feel held back by other students’ rate of learning. That would help that group’s stress too. Everybody wins.

    Too much rigidity in your environment is stressful in itself.

  • Tabitha Pearson

    Tabitha Pearson

    June 25th, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    @Josh Cantu: If they want to do it at their own pace they can learn online and take their degree over the net. “Everybody wins”? The professors don’t.

    You can’t expect lecturers to structure classes on campus around who may or may not be keeping up with the coursework or feel like working today.

    Contrary to popular belief, college isn’t a giant coffee house where you can wander in and out of it as you please!

  • Fran Willis

    Fran Willis

    June 25th, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    College not only educates our children: it teaches them to cope with basic life skills they need for the working world like turning up when you’re supposed to and doing what you have committed to do. The day they accepted their place they made that commitment to the college, to their parents and to themselves.

    If they can’t handle that, they need to decline because there’s plenty more potential students lined up that be happy to get in and appreciate it far more.

    There’s no shame in entering the job market right after school and working for a living. Many non-graduates do very well in life because they learn on the job and gain experience that stands them in good stead for career progression.

  • D.F.

    D.F.

    June 25th, 2011 at 5:31 PM

    It’s sad that homophobia and racism hasn’t faded away by now in these allegedly enlightened times.

    A physically harmless but humiliating fraternity hazing being applied to such louts would be a good punishment for them. If you cannot appeal to their commonsense, then give them a taste of their own medicine so they understand how it feels to be singled out. Fight fire with fire!

  • W.A. Cotter

    W.A. Cotter

    June 25th, 2011 at 5:45 PM

    @D.F. – A very bad idea. They would be getting into trouble themselves for carrying out such foolishness. What we want to do is educate them and show them the error of their ways, not mirror their own methods. That only reinforces for them the power of what they already do, and also confirms that you see it as powerful tool.

    Two wrongs don’t make a right, much as revenge is tempting. No, stick with following campus rules and complain to whoever is in charge about their actions. Taking the higher ground and keeping a cool head will defeat them just the same without risking a blemish upon your own record.

  • joanna hobbs

    joanna hobbs

    June 27th, 2011 at 9:34 PM

    75% of people feeling stress and 40% of that having it affect their studies? That isn’t only an issue, it’s an unacceptable way to live your life. What are they doing to resolve this stress? These are smart kids. They can go to relaxation classes, learn meditation, learn how to sleep better, whatever.

    I suspect they are doing very little themselves to get relief from that. I bet none of them admitted that partying all night affected them too.

    College kids are so babied now that they won’t and don’t know how to take responsibility for themselves. We’ve raised an entire generation of narcissistic wimps.

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