Back to School: Top Five Things That Stress College Students

Fitting in? Finding a date? That's nothing. College students are more stressed than ever, and money issues have emerged as the top culprit.

  • Share
  • Read Later

College students have always experienced academic and social stress. Now financial stress is in the mix in a big way and helping push student anxiety to record levels.

The chief money-related stress for many is debt. Outstanding student loans have soared to $1 trillion and there seems to be no stopping the growth. In 2001, 5.6% of college-bound students expected to use $10,000 or more in loans the first year. By 2011, this figure had more than doubled, to 13.3%, the most recent American Freshman: National Norms survey found.

More striking, a May 2012 survey by Inceptia, a non-profit financial education advocate, found that four of the top five areas causing stress among college students were money related. Inceptia explored 11 likely sources of stress, including family life, work, academics, and time management. The top five reasons for stress:

  • Need to repay loans
  • Cost of education
  • Borrowing money for college
  • Need to find a job after school
  • Academic challenge of course work

(MORE: Making Personal Finance Cool to Kids)

Whatever happened to teen angst over fitting in or finding a date? Money issues swamp them, and it is having a debilitating effect. One in three say money problems are hurting their grades and one in four say money issues have forced them to reduce their coursework. From a July 2012 Inceptia report:

“We found that 74% of respondents are working during the academic year, and 15% of students are working full-time. The average student is putting in 21.1 hours of work per week, which is significantly more time than they are spending on academic endeavors outside the classroom.”

Other research has found that working more than 10 hours per week leads to academic trouble and that students who work more than 20 hours per week are significantly more likely to report that financial stress has had a negative impact on their academics.

Financial stress seems most acute among freshman and those in their 5th year or beyond. Freshmen generally experience a shock taking on their first real money management duties and living away from home for the first time. Those in their 5th year or beyond have a different set of concerns. They report a higher stress score than the average student in five of the eleven areas that Inceptia measured. This reflects growing anxiety as they extend their school years and take on more debt to do so. From the report:

“Although the sample of 5th year and beyond students in the study was small, it is worth noting that these students were twice as likely to report being negatively impacted by financial stress when compared to the rest of the students surveyed, with a full 69% indicating that financial stress had impeded their academic progress or performance.”

(MORE: College ‘Shopping Sheet’ Designed to Help Students Compare Financial Aid)

Universities are becoming more aware of this issue and dedicating resources to financial education on campus. Two in three have some kind of financial program in place, and among those that do not nearly half plan to start one in the next 12 months. Let’s hope they follow through because while there’s a lot of talk about how to make college more affordable there’s been little headway. Students should learn how to manage money and debt before they get in over their heads.