David Dulberg
October 2018

Money a Big, Black Cloud of Anxiety for Today’s College Students

Everyone has their worries. Nothing is more personal than what we are afraid of. But trends in anxiety can reveal larger, darker clouds of societal and cultural pressures. As an example, Chegg, in a recent study of a thousand college students, found that the two biggest anxieties of students are academic performance and financial concerns. About 62 percent of students found both particularly stressful.

Financial Concerns Most Stressful

The fact that money worries are as deep and widespread as how well a student is doing in school is indeed telling. With college costs climbing, and student loan debt continuing to be the fastest growing consumer debt, it is no wonder that students list economic stress as one of their top concerns.

More than one-third of students found it either challenging or impossible to afford food. Over two-thirds of students said they cannot comfortably afford housing at their college. Because of this, the average student spends more time at work than in the classroom, averaging more than 4 hours of work per day, nearly double what they spend in the classroom.

Unsurprisingly, even the greatest source of social pressure students feel is connected with money. According to the survey, students feel compelled to:

  • Spend more money than they should—37 percent
  • Drink alcohol—31 percent
  • Change their body type—24 percent
  • Change how they dress—23 percent
  • Do drugs—16 percent
  • Smoke cigarettes—15 percent

The Costs of Going to College

This pressure to spend money takes different forms. Of course, technology is at the top of the list. Over three-quarters of students say that their top spending priorities are their phones and laptops. Another 45 percent report that going out with friends is essential. No matter where students spend their money, pressures mount from the costs of going to college.

Students have always attended college both to gain knowledge and as a way forward in their lives and careers. Though college has always been a place of exploration, joy, and triumph, it has also induced emotions of loneliness and stress. Today, these have been accentuated by the more insistent need for college to be a vehicle to secure gainful employment.

Add to this stress today’s challenging economic, social, political, and tech-dominated issues, and it is easy to understand how higher education has become increasingly complex. In many ways students struggle with the same concerns as adults, with the addition of peer pressure from campus life. Money has always been a student concern, but now student loan debt hovers like a dark cloud over academic progress and nervously anticipated graduation ceremonies.


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David Dulberg

David Dulberg lives with his wife in the coastal hills above a narrow creek, mid-canopy in a redwood forest. He has been writing for non-profits for many years, and volunteers as a pilot on the Baum Squad, a tandem bike riding program for the Earle Baum Center for the Blind. He does not have a pet. This does not make him a bad person.

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