The Main Causes of Stress in College Students

Updated October 10, 2022
College student studying

Many people look back and consider their college years to be some of the best years of their lives. But if you ask a student who is currently enrolled, they are likely to describe the experience as stressful. With pressure to perform, to get good grades, to choose a career path in life it is no wonder that college students often report that their stress levels are high.

But there are a few ways to manage stress in your late teens and early twenties as you explore the college experience. Learn a few tips and tricks from professionals on how to cope with college stress.

Common Causes of Stress in College

College can be an amazing period of your life. You're finally taking steps toward your future goals and dreams. However, these steps are anything but simple. College can be a very stressful time for many young adults. In fact, a 2022 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found several sources of academic stress in college students that can affect their overall health. Therefore, it's important for college students to identify areas of stress and mechanisms for how to deal with them.

Academic Performance Pressure

The pressure to perform academically is one of the primary causes of teenage stress, particularly for college students. Coursework can be very demanding, and the competition for earning top marks can be very fierce.

Students who want to do their best and who are planning to apply for admission to graduate school can be under a great deal of pressure as they struggle to excel in school. The same is true for those who are seeking scholarship funding or who must keep their grades up in order to keep existing scholarship awards.

Financial Stress

Many college students experience financial stress. In fact, a 2021 study found that students perceive financial stress as having the power to impact their academic success and social lives. Financial stress might involve the struggle to find sufficient money to pay for tuition, as well as securing the funds needed to cover the costs of living while attending school.

Even those students who are able to qualify for sufficient financial aid to cover immediate college costs have to cope with the financial stress of knowing that they will have to face paying back a large sum of money following graduation. The debt associated with student loans can be a source of stress, even long before finishing school and entering the job market.

Multitasking Stress

College students often engage in multiple activities outside of school. An empirical study of college life showed that college students must multitask more than double that of other types of workers.

In addition to taking several classes at one time, students may also be juggling jobs, extracurricular activities, volunteer work, family responsibilities, and more. While figuring out how to handle multiple simultaneous responsibilities can be excellent practice for adulthood, doing so is certainly a cause of stress for many students.

Future Decisions

While some students have a clear vision of the lives they want to enjoy as adults, many feel overwhelmed by the idea of trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. College students feel pressure to make educational and career decisions that can impact the rest of their lives. Choosing a major can be stressful, as can making choices about where to live, which relationships to continue to pursue, and more.

Increased Responsibility and Independence

The college years are characterized by quite a bit of change. Dealing with change is a major stressor for most individuals. For many people, attending college is the beginning of the process of becoming independent.

Leaving home to go away to school and start taking on additional responsibility can be very stress-inducing. Being faced with making important decisions about one's life and schedule for the first time is something that can be very stressful for college students.

Peer Pressure

During the college years, peer pressure can be quite fierce, according to the Journal of Humanities and Social Science. Coeds often face pressure from their classmates to experiment with drugs, sexual activity, and other potentially harmful behaviors.

For those who choose not to participate in such activities, resisting pressure can be a source of stress. Individuals who do venture into behaviors that might better be avoided also experience stress, typically both emotional and physical in nature.

How to Deal With College Stress

It's important for students to realize that feeling stress during this time of life is normal, and it is all right to reach out for help when they need it. Because college students face so many stressors, it's not unusual for people to need help dealing with the pressures of everyday life while they are in school.

Most postsecondary institutions offer free counseling services to members of the student body. Students can seek assistance from academic advisors, career counselors, or the school's health services office. Additionally, many schools offer life skills classes designed to help students adapt to college life and prepare for life beyond school. Additionally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness offers several coping strategies for stress.

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Get exercise
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Practice self-care
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Talk to someone
  • Utilize time management

If you are a college student and you feel that your stress level is starting to feel overwhelming, don't hesitate to ask for help. No one expects you to manage school and all of the other factors involved in college life without help. Talk to your parents or other family members, school staff, friends, or mental health professionals to get the guidance you need to be successful, both in school and in life.

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The Main Causes of Stress in College Students