Stress In College: Common Causes of Stress In College

The Many Causes of Stress In College

Young woman sleeping on bed in student dorm, head resting on books
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Many students deal with stress in college -- which can be a significant factor in the dreaded 'Freshman 15'. In fact, due partially to stress, a surprisingly high percentage of college freshmen don’t go on to graduate. What accounts for this stress? The following are common college stressors:

Regular Old Academic Stress

Not surprisingly, the workload of college is significantly more involved than the high school workload, and it comes with less hand-holding from parents and teachers.

With challenging classes, scheduling issues to coordinate, difficult tests and other academic obstacles, coupled with the most independent nature of the college learning structure, many new and returning students find themselves studying long, hard hours.

Social Stress

While college freshmen face the most obvious social challenges that usually involve leaving one’s entire support structure behind, creating a new social network, dealing with being away from home for the first time and finding less parental support, most students face social stress. Finding and living with a roommate, balancing friends with school work (and often part-time jobs), and dealing with the dynamics of young adult relationships can all be difficult, and these challenges can lead to significant stress.

Other Stresses

There are also many miscellaneous stresses that often come from college life. Many students keep crazy hours from staying up late to study, getting up early for classes, and trying to cram in all the work and fun that can possibly fit.

Often the logistics of living more independently—from laundry to car insurance—can cause stress. New students deal with missing home and more seasoned students may wonder if they’re in the right major. Most students struggle with who they are and where they’d like to be, at least at some point in their college career.

The Impact of Stress

What affect do these issues have on students? Just as everyone deals with stress in a unique way, college students experience a range of consequences from stress, from mild to severe. Here are some of the common effects of stress:

Experience of Stress

One of the most commonly felt consequences of college stress is a feeling of being overwhelmed. While trying to find a balance of how hard to work (and play), many college students struggle with perfectionism or unhealthy habits like heavy drinking.

Weight Issues

Partially because of stress and partially because of other social and practical issues faced by college students, many struggle with their weight. Many gain 10-20 pounds around their first year (weight gain known as the Freshman 15), and others lose weight unintentionally or struggle with eating disorders.

Dropout Rate

You may be surprised to hear that roughly 50% of American students who enter college don’t end up graduating! (According to U.S. Census figures, 6-in-10 high school seniors go on to college the following year, but only 29% of adults 25 and over had at least a bachelor’s degree.) Certainly, finances and life circumstances play into that figure, but the stress of college life cannot be ignored as a factor as well.

Because of these factors -- and because college is supposed to be enjoyed, not endured -- it’s important to keep college stress under control. This article on college life stress relief can provide you with resources to keep these years more relaxed, productive and just plain fun.


Bewick BM, Mulhern B, Barkham M, Trusler K, Hill AJ, Stiles WB. Changes in undergraduate student alcohol consumption as they progress through university. MBC Public Health, May 2008.

Yager Z, O'Dea JA. Prevention programs for body image and eating disorders on University campuses: a review of large, controlled interventions. Health Promotion International, June 2008.

U.S. Census 2000, 2008.

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