College freshmen more stressed than in the past
College freshmen today are significantly more stressed than they were in the past, according to results from The Cooperative Institutional Research Program’s (CIRP) survey, “The American Freshmen: National Norms Fall 2010.” This survey reports on more than 200,000 full-time freshmen at 279 of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities. First conducted in 1966, this CIRP Freshman Survey is found to be one of the most credible and largest studies of American college students.
When the self-ratings were first administered in 1985, 64 percent of the students polled reported that their emotional health was above average, as opposed to 52 percent today.
Further findings from the 2010 survey show that a “record high number of students believe the chief benefit of college is that it increases earning power.”
However, whether or not this survey adequately represents the views of freshmen on the Hill is open to debate. William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government Sandy Maisel does indeed believe that freshmen on the Hill are more stressed out now than they were when he first started teaching in 1971. The College was “a less intense place by any way you can measure,” Maisel said. Students were “less concerned about what comes next” and didn’t feel the same “pressure to succeed.”
Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology Thomas Morrione believes that this change in stress-level is hard to assess. If anything, it is more that “the sources of stress have shifted” from when he was a student on the Hill in 1961 and when he started teaching in 1971. For instance, students in the 1960s and 70s were more stressed out about the uneasy political climate and the Vietnam War draft than anything else.
Nowadays, sources of stress emanate largely from the state of the economy.
Students are wary of the uneasy job market, especially since “parental unemployment is at the highest level since we started measuring,” Director of the CIRP John Pryor stated in a January New York Times article explaining the survey results.
Morrione also suggests that the enhanced amount of communication as a result of technological advances greatly contributes to college students’ stress levels.
“[The] compression of time and space…constant engagement with other people…[and] the idea of being connected in a way you’ve never been before can be very stressful,” he said. “There is pretty clearly a growing dependence on instant responses from people to whom we send messages, and this texting and IM-ing seem to be taking more and more time away from other potentially productive activities.”
Today’s freshmen arrive on the Hill “having already experienced an incredible amount of stress in high school…and we see even more students coming to college with issues,” Director of Counseling Services Patricia Newmen said. She also proposed that some of the main issues she addresses in counseling—“having to make new friends and being away from home”—are additional sources of stress for freshmen at the College.
Newmen, Morrione and Maisel all agree that being a freshman on the Hill used to be much simpler. There was “a much more structured curriculum,” Morrione said, and very few students double majored. Most students just walked onto sports teams, and the competition within the student body was a lot less pervasive.
Whether or not the level of stress within the student body has risen, the demand for counseling services has definitely increased. In 1987, when Newmen first started working at the college, there was only one full-time counselor on staff, compared to three now.
However, it is significant to note that although this demand may be attributed to a higher intake of stress, it may also be a reflection of the fact that students are more willing to reach out for help.
“Stress is a sense of unease, it is not a peaceful place…and you can get there a billion different ways,” Morrione said. Newmen added that “[stress] comes about when you’re not taking care of yourself…and when it is difficult to manage your life in a healthy and fulfilling way.”
Newmen also said that stress is “a part of being alive...it is the way of college life. It is necessary in healthy doses, in order to propel students to take control of their environment. Newmen suggests that stressed students should try to “get a sufficient amount of sleep, exercise, eat healthy,” and most importantly, “find time for quiet,” in order to relieve their stress.