Is Anxiety A Larger Part Of Poor College Performances?

Are first-year students in American colleges more likely to be unhappy and anxious than past cohorts? Are depression and feeling overwhelmed becoming more common among young collegians?

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This year’s CIRP Freshman Survey, now entering its 50th year as a snapshot of student attitudes, was administered to hundreds of thousands of incoming students. Apparently this year’s results indicate disturbing trends. Multiple worries are piling higher onto students’ shoulders, and universities are concerned about how this will impact their students’ success, in the short term and long term.

Nearly 153,000 pupils were given the survey this past fall. 50.7% of participants stated that their emotional health is above average. While this may seem high, it is actually the lowest percentage since 1985, when the survey began inquiring about this. Almost 10% reported that they often felt depressed, and over half the respondents stated that they experienced “overwhelming anxiety” during the past year.

Amazingly, alcohol may play a factor in this. It seems fewer of these students drank while in high school. Due to this, one expert pointed out that the number of college-age people hospitalized for excessive drinking has grown. The lack of drinking “experience” may contribute to this.

Other study results point to students spending more time on academics and less on socializing. There is a lot of pressure to get into colleges, get into top colleges, to obtain scholarships, and other endeavors that make a student seem career ready. Social media and technological advances may also impede students in their socialization, it is speculated.

At the same time, other results point to positive trends, such as less than 1 in 50 students reporting that they smoke cigarettes. Also, a counselor at Grand Valley State University, for example, points out that there is less stigma attached to students who seek out mental health services.

Colleges are concerned about the emotional health of their students because it contributes to their ability to succeed in coursework, and in reaching graduation.?Are we dealing with unhappier first year students or are they just more honest? Is the economy a bigger factor than perhaps has been measured?

Upon hearing about this student survey and its results, Jessica, a 9th grader very close to me said:

“Of course college freshmen are more anxious. High school freshmen are also more anxious. It’s their first year in the school.”

Should we worry…or is this just much to do about not much?


Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.