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Stress in College Students, Its Causes and Effects Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 17th, 2020

Evidently, college life is a difficult and testing stage of a person’s life. In particular, the modern American college life is characterized by stress and frustrations. Among other things, financial, social and academic factors contribute to the increasing rate of students with stress in modern colleges and universities. The need to balance classes, research projects, extracurricular activities, relationships and work makes it difficult for students to cope with college life (Chemers, Hu & Garcia, 2011).

Recognizing the cause and effect of stress in college students is an important aspect in college management and leadership as it will lead to a better understanding and development of the appropriate methods for intervention (Chemers et al., 2011). In this context, the paper seeks to investigate the cause and effects of stress in college students, arguing that stress is a major issue in student life and is based on three major aspects: financial, social and academic stress.

Major Cause: Social Causes

Upon entry into a college, freshmen face a number of social challenges as they attempt to adapt to the new environment, develop new relationships and establish social networks among them. In particular, new students must leave behind the social support, relationships and networks previously developed within their neighborhoods, places of work and high schools. The new environment requires students to reschedule their relationships and develop new ones with new people from different backgrounds and geographical locations (Dyrbye, Thomas & Shanafelt, 2010).

It is worth noting that new students find it difficult to cope with the loss of close parental support previously enjoyed during their high school years. They must deal with the fact that they are away from their homes. They have to live with strange peers as roommates. In addition, they must manage their own activities, including balancing new relationships with academics and other issues.

Secondly, it is important to note that most college students are in their early adulthood or late adolescent ages. In human development and lifespan, these are the most critical stages in which a person must develop relationships with peers, including intimate relations. In these stages, individuals are sexually active and the desire to explore sexuality is at the peak. In addition, the college life offers maximum freedom for developing any form of relationships, including those with opposite sex.

In particular, most students come from backgrounds where parental control and limitation of freedom are common. As such, the freedom offered by college life exposes students to various risks and opportunities. An individual finds that it is almost free to test relationships, drug and other aspects of life common among the young people. Peer pressure, the desire to explore and the emotions created by age seem to be in conflict with the desire to have self-control and dedication to academics and learning. As such, the students develop emotional and mental stress that makes it difficult to concentrate on academics.

Leading Second Cause: Financial Causes of Stress

As previously mentioned, students find themselves in a new position that requires them to be their own managers. In most cases, students are being exposed to the idea of financial control and management for the first time in their lives. They have a free access to the finances provided by both the parents or the relevant authorities and sponsors. Considering that most students are in the human growth stages that require one to explore such issues as drugs and sexual activities, it becomes difficult to achieve an effective method of managing funds. For instance, alcohol and impulse buying are common factors that affect the students’ ability to control and manage their funds.

For instance, while other drugs are normally prohibited in most colleges, alcohol is allowed to an extent, especially if one does not disrupt others. Moreover, the freedom to move in and out of the institution as well as visiting clubs and other places for leisure requires the students to have adequate supplies of funds. Peer pressure makes most students fail to apply effective management of the funds available to them, which causes emotional and psychological stress.

Academic Causes of Stress

Obviously, the degree of difficulty of college and university education is relatively high when compared to high schools. At this level, a student is required to attend classes, take and pass tests, carry out research, complete assignments and projects and make presentations as required by their institutions (Chemers et al., 2011). In addition, most American colleges and universities require the students to be active in one or more extracurricular activities.

At the same time, the institutional environment exposes the students to excessive freedom. Students find it difficult to balance between the social freedoms the new environment gives them and the excessive demands for academic excellence. At the same time, they need to manage their funds as well. The social and financial stressors increase the degree of academic pressure because the institutions seems to have little regards for the student’s social and financial needs and places emphasis on academic excellence. In addition, with little parental and psychological support from the institutions, the students find it difficult to deal with these stressors, yet the university expects them to perform excellent.

Effects of Stress on College Students

Economic Eeffect 1

Students tend to change their social orientation after joining colleges. The increased freedom offered by the university environment makes the students spend much of their finances on some unnecessary things such as entertainment, leisure, drugs, alcohol and junk foods. The parents spend a lot of money on their children’s education, yet the students spend much of the parent’s money on things that do not create value on their academic and career goals.

Economic Effect 2

Parents, the government and the society invest heavily in the education system. They expect the students to perform excellently in academics and assume the roles of leadership in the economic, political and social sectors. However, the academic and social stresses affecting the students also affect the academic outcomes. Rather than performing as per the social expectations, the students perform poorly due to the stressing factors, making the society make economic losses.

As mentioned above, drinking and eating habits are common problems among the college and university students. Partially due to stress, financial, social, and academic pressures, students struggle with eating habits. Some tend to consume excessive sugary or junk foods while others use excessive alcohol. Others end up eating little amounts of food, leading to health and weight problems. The pressures to perform excellently in academics make it difficult for most students to find enough time for sleep or rest. In fact, sleep problems are some of the major issues affecting most college students, including insomnia and the associated psychological problems (Cohen, Kamarck & Mermelstein, 2003).

At the end, the economic effect is that the students perform poorly in academics, making the society loss the economic potential of the young age. Education is a major investment for the society. The society expects the young people to perform excellently in academics and take the roles of steering the economy once they graduate. However, the poor performance caused by these stressors makes the society lose the economic potentials of the young generation.


In order to find the best ways of developing the appropriate intervention programs or methods, the knowledge of causes and effects of stress on college students is required. This paper has examined these issues. It has emerged that the major causes of stress are financial, academic and social factors. On the other hand, these stressors cause health and psychological problems that should be solved in order to enhance mental, psychological and physical health in students.


Chemers, M. M., Hu, L. T., & Garcia, B. F. (2011). Academic self-efficacy and first year college student performance and adjustment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93(1), 55.

Cohen, S., Kamarck, T., & Mermelstein, R. (2003). A global measure of perceived stress. Journal of health and social behavior, 24(4), 385-396.

Dyrbye, L. N., Thomas, M. R., & Shanafelt, T. D. (2010). Medical student distress: causes, consequences, and proposed solutions. Mayo Clinic Proceedings 80(12), 1613-1622.

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