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Report: College Students Are Anxious, but Optimistic

Joy Bullen
Written by Joy Bullen | Dec. 10, 2020
Report: College Students Are Anxious, but Optimistic

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If you've been feeling more stressed than normal lately, you're definitely not alone. In a recent survey of 3,500 full-time college students conducted by College Pulse in partnership with Course Hero and NASPA, 56 percent of students reported feeling at least "somewhat anxious" and 21 percent say that they are "constantly worried" right now. No groups of students are immune to feeling overwhelmed and worried. But female students and those who identify as non-straight (LGBTQIA+) report the highest levels of anxiety, and are also the most likely to seek support from friends and use their schools' mental health resources.

Coursework Is a Major Stressor

The list of students' concerns runs the gamut from worries about school and social life to stress about the pandemic, finances, and job prospects in the future. Seventy percent of students say their primary source of stress is keeping up with their coursework and staying engaged with remote learning.

Other top concerns include:

  • Making or maintaining friendships (63%)
  • Their own mental health (61%)
  • Catching COVID-19 (57%)
  • Personal financial situation (51%)
  • Getting a job after graduation (48%)

Student Resources Are Being Underutilized

Most students approve of or are neutral about their schools' responses to the pandemic and the decision to hold classes in-person, remotely, or as a mix. But over half of students (53 percent) say they could have used more support from school than they have received. Students experiencing the highest levels of stress are also the least satisfied with the support resources their colleges offer. While many schools have expanded their support services for students during the pandemic, over three quarters of students (77 percent) say they have not used any of the mental health resources offered, including telehealth services and other resources that can be accessed remotely.

More TV and Coursework, Less Alcohol and Exercise

Students are turning to a variety of methods to cope with stress, some healthier than others. Compared with the Spring 2020 semester, students spent more time during Fall 2020 on social media, watching TV, cooking and with their families —and less time exercising, sleeping, drinking alcohol, and connecting with friends. And more than half of students (55 percent) say they are spending more time on their coursework than they did in the spring semester. This increase in time spent on schoolwork may stem from fewer distractions, enabling students to focus on their studies. Another theory is that professors are assigning more reading and work to compensate for the remote learning environment. One Animal Sciences major from the University of Arkansas says, "I have received more coursework than before. Teachers seem to think that they need to give us twice the amount of material to look at/listen to."

Not Just Surviving, but Thriving

But it's not all bad. Despite feeling anxious and overworked, the majority of students are also confident, optimistic and engaged.

Students report feeling:

  • Competent and capable (82%)
  • That their lives are meaningful and purposeful (74%)
  • Optimistic about the future (70%)
  • Interested and engaged in their daily activities (62%)

And some are actually thriving in this new remote-learning landscape. One University of Texas student was already looking for ways to take the lessons learned during COVID to improve post-pandemic life.

"My mental health immediately improved once school went online. I felt a huge sense of relief and my entire nervous system relaxed and healed. I hope school can remain online and work for others can remain optional online as well. It would be awesome if after COVID was a thing of the past the lessons of relaxing and staying home more remained intact."

Written by

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen

Joy Bullen is College Confidential's Senior Editor and Head of Content. She is a graduate of Kenyon College, where she majored in English and Creative Writing. She also earned a master’s in Psychology from The New School for Social Research in NYC.

Before becoming a full-time writer and editor, Joy coached thousands of prospective and enrolled college students on admissions and academic and career success. She also managed a team of academic and career coaches and consulted with universities on how to create programs that have better outcomes for students.

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