Challenges College Students Face

As more students pursue higher education at tertiary institutions such as college, cases of extreme stress increase dramatically, due to the increased competition and higher expectations given to them during their academic career. At this point in life, students face various stressful events in life which include academics, career-related issues, family problems, social relationships, finances, personal appearance, personal health issues and sleep difficulties. (Harvard Medical School,2018) Furthermore, college challenges students to juggle these different aspects of their lives independently, oftentimes without the full support of their family. As a result, stress becomes a part of a student’s everyday life. However, it does not necessarily mean that it will bring about a bad outcome in the student’s academic life. This is because there are two types of stress, “Eustress” and “Distress”. According to (Selye, 1974), eustress is the beneficial type of stress, since it is associated with positive feelings and healthily physical states whereas distress is the unwanted type of stress, associated with negative feelings, such as demotivation and disturbed physical states.

This essay will be addressing how both eustress and distress can affect a college student’s academic performance in different circumstances. Furthermore, it will also address how a student’s coping mechanisms for both types of stress can affect their academic success in college. Environmental stress College is an important transitional stage in life, where a student must face many changes in their life that come with adulthood. Firstly, it comes with environmental changes such as moving to a different city or country for their studies. Secondly, the level and method of learning between high school and college are extremely different. These few factors cause students to experience a form of ‘culture shock’. Their experiences are akin to the ones faced by people experiencing a different country for the first time. There are five stages to this; the honeymoon, culture shock, initial adjustment, mental isolation, acceptance and integration according to Zeller and Mosier (1993). Changes such as living far from home and having to deal with managing their own dorm with a roommate will cause a student to draw comparisons between their college environment and home environment, resulting in homesickness. Furthermore, the expectations the student may have had of college life during the honeymoon stage of culture shock would have shattered, resulting in them realising the reality of college life. Another factor that goes under environmental changes would be the differences in the level of learning in college compared to high school. It is considered a change that can cause a student to feel insecure about their academic abilities over time. For example, students who did very well in high school and begin to barely pass in college are prone to this insecurity as reality did not go along with their expectations that were formed in high school. Insecurities caused by this will pair up with expectations that their family have placed upon them to upkeep their grades and result in distress. Without intervention and the correct coping methods, this can lead to depression, social anxiety and dropping out of school. In fact, “First-year college students facing the emotional transition to university life are at a higher risk of suffering from depression as their emotional state is impacted by new social networks, academic stress and living arrangements.” (Brandy et al., 2015) Personal and Social stress As mentioned earlier, since, college is a transitional stage in life for many students, it is a time where they begin to worry about their self-image as well as begin to consider their sexual orientations and religious beliefs. Questioning of sexual orientations could lead to a student discovering that they fall under the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) spectrum which is a population that is socially stigmatized even to this day.

According to the minority stress model (Meyer, 2003), populations that are socially stigmatized face chronic stress due to prejudice and discrimination, which can put them at risk for poor mental health. This can result in them developing an inferiority complex as they do not feel accepted within society due to microaggressions against them especially in social situations and from family. To combat this form of stress, students will have to seek support groups run by people whom they can relate to. As a result, their stress induces a positive result in their development and mental health. A student who is proud of their identity and beliefs is a confident student who will motivate themselves and others to do well in their academics. College puts students through situations that constantly require them to be actively social in varying degrees ranging from group work with classmates to parties which require a lot of intermingling with friends and new social circles. These situations normally result in cases of social anxiety. Social anxiety causes students to deeply fear being rejected, criticized, judged, or simply seen unfavourably when having to perform. (Yip,2013) Furthermore, students find it difficult to make a close circle of friends in their first year of college. Dr. Nancy Stockton, director of the Counselling and Psychological Services at Indiana University, mentions that, it is very stressful for students when they do not immediately have the deep friendships that they have with people who understand them and have lived through many of their life’s experiences with them like the communities they have had at home. (Reed & College, 2015) Stress about the future caused by Academic Stress Some students will feel stressed when they reflect about their chances at future careers if their academic performance drops.

In fact, a study of two thousand students in their senior year of college in the United States of America showed that a fear of low grades and eventual job market failure played major roles in exam stress. (Blood, 2015) It is crucial that students have access to education that informs them of the different ways in which they can study to cope with their academic stress. There are also other methods of coping with academic stress such as exercising with friends. By doing so, a student will have enforced their social connections and formed new bonds. A study found that “college students who engaged in vigorous exercise for twenty minutes at least three days a week were less likely to report poor mental health and stress.” (DeBenedette, 2013) 

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