An article published in The New York Times on January 26 reported decreased levels of emotional health among college freshmen, according to the survey “The American Freshman: National Norms 2010″ and cited the recession as a possible cause.
While this may be true, the recession doesn’t explain an increase in the number of college applications. According to the admissions office, the applications Notre Dame received for both early action and regular decision increased significantly this year. In addition to the fees charged to even applying, attending a private university means finagling a financial aid package that may still result in debt for many students.
And while worrying about job prospects after graduation isn’t limited to seniors, it’s much more common to students of that age than for freshmen. Many freshmen haven’t even chosen a major, and others will likely change their course of study before graduation. In addition, as the economy gradually improves, so do job prospects for graduates, meaning that the class of 2014 will likely face a better job market than this year’s graduating class.
Part of the reason for the declining emotional health levels might be increased pressure, both real and imagined, that students feel from themselves, their parents, and from society. Competitive universities attract high-achieving, driven students who are used to being in the top of their classes in high school. In college, they might have difficulties adjusting to being surrounded by similarly competitive and motivated peers.
Balancing academics with social life and relaxation time is a skill that many college freshmen struggle to develop. Many students feel pressure to excel academically, take part in multiple resume-building extracurricular activities, and go out every weekend. It’s possible that raising standards for acceptance into universities leads many students to push themselves harder in high school, a mindset that they maintain once they get to college.
Building time into schedules for relaxation is something that many over-committed college students seem to have a hard time doing. Increased stress levels among freshmen might be an indication that students are getting worse at this.
Many universities do offer resources, from counseling centers to time management seminars, to help students deal with these issues. Notre Dame’s health center, St. Liam’s, even offers a sun room for students having difficulty dealing with the perpetual permacloud.