Survey shows record level of stress for college freshmen

30.2% in national poll often feel overwhelmed

January 24, 2000|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

This year's class of college freshmen, having survived the most competitive higher-education admissions process ever and being saddled with increased family and financial responsibilities, entered school more stressed than any in a generation, a national survey has found.

A record 30.2 percent of the freshmen polled in their first days on campuses across the country said they frequently felt overwhelmed by what they had to do.

The survey, by researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles, found a significant gender gap -- 38.8 percent of women and 20 percent of men reported high stress levels.

An explanation might be that female students report spending more time studying, doing volunteer work and participating in school clubs, while their male counterparts log more hours exercising, watching television, partying and playing video games.

Stress levels have been rising since 1985, when 16 percent of first-year college students said they were frequently overwhelmed.

"One could question: Do they really have more going on than students did 20 years ago, or do they just think they do?" said Linda Sax, an assistant professor of education at UCLA who directs the annual survey. "In some ways, it doesn't matter, because they feel the stress."

Nearly one in four students surveyed said they expect to work full time while in college -- another record.

Kendra Fox-Davis, president of the U.S. Students Association, a Washington advocacy group, attributed the increased stress, in part, to the cost of college and the need to balance conflicting responsibilities.

"Students are no longer able to go to college and devote themselves to this pursuit of learning and just spend four years being introspective," said Fox-Davis, a 1998 graduate of UCLA.

"Instead of just `How do I memorize this information for the exam,' it's `How do I work enough hours, or apply for enough scholarships or get enough grants so I can afford a full load of classes,' " she said.

This year, the poll, which has been conducted annually since 1966, included 364,546 students at 683 of the country's two- and four-year colleges and universities. They were interviewed during orientation or the first week of classes.

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