Our idea of what schooling should be is hinged upon a shared goal of preparing young people to face the adult world. This is not only when it comes to trade and career opportunities but also in dealing with other people in ways pertinent to the morals and attitudes of the times. While schools teach and, to a degree, simulate real-world scenarios for students, they also introduce—maybe unintentionally–another real-world experience. And, that is student stress. The main reason is that college life imposes numerous adjustments for students leading to increased levels of stress (Bennion et al., 2018).
Statistics reveal a concerning truth, student stress is real, and, in some cases, may be on par with the stress that adults deal with. The physical and mental demands of studies often increase proportionally to a student’s progress (Reddy et al., 2018). Additionally, external factors such as family life, finances, friends, and mental health may either provide a supporting role or an additional distraction to studying (Lian, 2018). In an ACHA-National College Health Assessment II national research survey released in 2019, the majority of undergraduates reported stress and anxiety as the top major factors that affected their academic performance negatively (ACHA, 2019).
This article aims to discuss student stress statistics in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, and identify some of the underlying causes and how many students are affected. It also hopes to identify if there are sources of relief from stress available in schools or from a student’s immediate social circle. This way, educators, school administrators, and parents can understand the different factors contributing to student stress and what they can do to address them. It should also give students an idea of how fellow learners are coping with stress.
Student Stress Statistics Table of Contents
- General Student Stress Statistics
- Stress Among K-12 Students
- Stress Among College and University Students
- Common Student Stress Factors
- Mental Health Support for Students
General Student Stress Statistics
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic yet to show signs of ending, a lot of routine activities have ground to a crawl or even a halt. But prior to the global outbreak, studies indicate that students typically undergo increased levels of stress while attending college (Conley et al., 2013), in one way or another. Consider the following statistics:
- In 2018, there were 4% more applicants to U.S. colleges compared to 2017, but only 65% were accepted.
- 24% of students in the United States are getting stressed about their future and finding a job after graduation.
- Studies project that 1 in 5 previously stress-free U.K. university students will be diagnosed as clinically anxious by mid-course.
- Around 500 Japanese students below the age of 20 kill themselves each year. Every September 1 (or the start of the school year), the teen suicide rate tends to occur three times higher compared to any other day.
- Six out ten of college students experienced “overwhelming anxiety,” while over 40% were saddled with crippling depression.
- Between the school years 2009- 2015, there was a 30% increase in the number of American students who visited campus counseling centers, even though enrollment only increased by 5%.
Stress Among K-12 Students
Stress for a middle schooler may be slightly different from those experienced by college students, but it does not mean they have it easier. Dealing with schoolwork, especially those with dual enrollment meaning, they take college courses for credit, is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s the burgeoning social network, coupled with a body rapidly adjusting to adolescence. All these induce stress. Here are some statistics that show how teens deal with their new role as high schoolers.
- Seven out of ten teens in the U.S. (between 13 and 17 years old) have named anxiety or depression as a major problem among their peers in the community.
- 75% of U.S. high school students expressed boredom, anger, sadness, fear, or stress while in school.
- On a 10-point scale, where normal values for adults are 3.8, American teens rated their stress rate at an average score of 5.8.
- Three quarters (75%) of American high schoolers and half of middle schoolers described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork.
Stress Among College and University Students
As mentioned earlier, college life is a bit more advanced compared to high school. Students not only have to deal with a bigger academic workload, but they are expected to function socially, plan financially, and deal with living away from home for the first time. Consequently, an American College Health Association (2015) survey found that stress has become the most serious academic impediment among students at over a hundred colleges and universities across the U.S.
With a fixed time and infinite activities, students often pause midway and realize they might be doing too much with too little.
- 40% of college students in the U.S. admit to feeling inadequately-rested five out of seven days a week.
- One in four American college students indicate that lack of sleep has affected their academic performance in a negative way: lower grades, missed a paper or project deadline, or had to withdraw from class.
- U.S. students who sleep six or fewer hours a night have a lower Grade Point Average (GPA) than those who get eight or more.
- 40% of American college students take naps, but nappers tend to sleep less in total than non-nappers.
- 45% of American college students claimed to undergo “more than average stress,” while 33% of students reported “average stress” and 12.7% saying it is “tremendous stress.” Students who reported “no stress” or “less than average stress” combined for 9% total.
- 8 out of 10 university students in the U.K. reported stress and/or anxiety in school.
- 45% of United Kingdom students reported feeling stressed by their course, which is higher than students who are enjoying their classes (41%).
Common Student Stress Factors
Stress comes in many forms, as the human capacity for worrying is unlimited. Apart from the usual suspects of exams and grades, stress also comes via the inability to adjust to a life outside your comfort zone (home) and dealing with a new social circle far from your childhood friends and family. Other problems designed for adults, such as budgeting, loans, and getting a job, start at high school or college for most people.
- Finals and midterms accounted as the top source of stress for 31% of U.S. students. Class and workload were third at 23%. Homework placed fourth at 13%.
- 36.5% of U.S. college students pointed to stress as the biggest reason why their academic performance suffered negatively for the past 12 months. In addition, 29.5 % listed anxiety as a factor.
- For American middle schoolers, 61% of teens admitted feeling a lot of pressure to get good grades. In contrast, 29% feel pressured to look good, 28% need to fit in socially (28%), and 21% feel the pressure to involve themselves in extracurricular activities and be good at sports.
Source: Pew Social Trends
Bullying and harassment
- Victims of bullying comprise 29% of U.S. college students.
- 37% of middle and high school American students between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States have experienced cyberbullying.
- American female students are more likely to be bullied at school compared to males (24% vs. 17%).
- A higher percentage of U.S. male students report being physically bullied (6% vs. 4%). More females report being the subject of rumors (18% vs. 9%) and being excluded from activities on purpose (7% vs. 4%).
Source: National Center for Education Statistics
Separation/distance from family
- Over 30% of American college students feel homesick. Freshmen take it even worse, as 69% reported a feeling of severe homesickness.
- 92% of over one million international students in the U.S. say they miss home while studying abroad.
- 57% of these international students say it is the sensory experience they find missing, while 74% say they miss the sounds of their hometowns.
- These sounds include people talking in their native language (50%), local community hustle and bustle (26%), public transport sounds (25%), and native wildlife (20%).
Source: Businesswire Designed by
Student loans/financial concerns
- The average American public four-year university costs over $20,000 annually, while U.S. private institutions cost at least double at $40,000 plus per year.
- Because of money problems, 32% of American students have said that their studies are sometimes neglected.
- 60% of U.S. college students worry about not having enough money to pay for their studies.
- 70% of U.S. students are stressed about their financial health.
- To afford tuition, 43% of full time and 81% of part-time American students work during their off study hours.
- Loans are the primary way to finance their studies for 64% of U.S. college students.
- 33% of U.S. college students with loans owed less than $10,000, while 20% owed more than $30,000.
- Because of the money they owed in loans, nearly 30% of American college students said they reduced their class load, 16% took a break from attending school, and 13% transferred to another, probably cheaper institution.
Source: Ohio State University
Student mental health issues
- The rate of American students with suicidal thoughts or other suicide-related outcomes increased 47% from 2008 to 2017 (from 7.0% to 10.3%).
- 54.2% of surveyed mental health clinicians believe that anxiety, depression, and stress are the top concerns of U.S. college student patients.
- According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80% of U.S. students report feeling stressed sometimes or often, while 34% felt depression.
- Based on UNESCO monitoring reports during the pandemic, 9 out of 10 students (87%) in 165 countries were affected by school closures in March due to the coronavirus. This translates to over 1.5 billion primary to tertiary learners.
- 20%, or one in five American college students, admitted in an April 2020 survey that their mental health significantly got worse this year during the pandemic.
- 78% of homes with American high school or college students reported educational disruptions due to COVID-19. Of these students, 80% admitted to suffering from increased stress due to these disruptions.
- 44% of U.S. college students worry if they can still enroll or stay enrolled in college during the disruption.
- 69% of American students experiencing disruptions believe that their school provides enough support throughout the transition process.
Mental Health Support for Students
Ideally, schools have designated centers and point persons to help students deal with stress, including any underlying medical or mental health issue. However, the number of students who have availed of such services is far less than expected, which either means students have developed their own methods of dealing with stress or have eschewed help altogether.
- 23% of U.K. students are satisfied with the mental health resources available at their university.
- Among U.S. college and university students, 75% agree that they know where to go for on-campus professional mental health services.
- 20.3% of college students that sought mental health services in 2018 used their college/university counseling or health services.
- 61% of U.S. college students reported receiving information about stress reduction from their school.
- 41% of U.S. college students terminated their mental health services due to the end of the term or semester.
- Medication use to deal with mental health issues has slowly but steadily climbed among U.S. college students. From 31.3% in 2010-2011, students who received medication have risen to 34.3% in 2018-2019.
Percentage of students who availed of campus mental health services
Source: ACHA 2018 Designed by
Stress is Not Just for Adults
Stress is real. Gone are the days when people were quick to dismiss stress as a normal rite of passage or a necessary evil. The hyper-competitive environment of college applications, the demands of coursework, the outrageous tuition fees, and the general feeling of being away from family and friends for long periods of time, are all designed to filter the most resilient in the class. Unfortunately, in a ranking system, there will always be those at the back of the line. Recognizing that stress happens and is rarely preventable is a big step toward helping address it. It is the start to reaching the goal of scientific psychological interventions.
Information remains the key to managing stress for adolescents. Sharing the knowledge that there are facilities available within the campus can help assuage them from feeling they are alone out there. Maybe, simple encouragement to listen to soothing music may help alleviate some stress. At the same time, recognizing students’ concerns on coursework, finance, social anxiety, and general acceptance can help educators come up with programs that are less stress-inducing. Counselors can also introduce relevant scientific studies on reducing stress. Maybe, some students could benefit.
This statistics article is by no means complete, but rather shows snippets of how things are within the university grounds. Updated studies, especially in areas such as distance learning stress, new ways to support stress-afflicted students, and ways how to develop education programs that reduce unnecessary stress will prove to be valuable tools. If we cannot remove the stress from schoolchildren, we at least have the mandate to reduce its occurrences.
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