Stress Overload and University

Post-secondary education can be stressful. For some, it’s especially stressful.

First-generation college students (FGCS) (i.e., college students whose parents never received a bachelor’s degree) experience worse academic performance and greater health concerns relative to current-generation college students (CGCS) (Amirkhan et al., 2022, p. 1). There are several challenges facing FGCS, including both adjustment demands and limited resources. Compared to CGCS, FGCS are merely half as likely to achieve and receive a degree. For instance, studies document that even though FGCS show a strong motivation to attend college, FGCS struggle once on campus. They tolerate challenges that are greater than those facing CGCS, both regarding adjustment demands and resource deficits. Furthermore, they may face lower grades and poorer physical and mental health.

The research literature has a record of the extraordinary hardship that FGCS experience when they begin college, along with their frustrating risk for academic failure and illness (p. 7). In their study, Amirkhan et al. (2022) examined whether the two phenomena are connected via the intermediary of stress overload. Stress overload is the type of stress that results in dysfunction, and it arises when adaptational demands are more than one’s personal resources. It has already been found in estimates of poor grades and sickness in college-student populations. Stress overload helps explain the poorer outcomes of FGCS compared with CGCS (Amirkhan et al., 2022). The authors of this study found that FGCS are more likely to mention stress overload than their CGCS classmates. This means that FGCS regularly feel more overwhelmed than their colleagues and are pushed far greater than their capabilities.

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Amirkhan, J. H., Manalo, R., & Velasco, S. E. (2022). Stress overload in first-generation college students: Implications for intervention. Psychological Services. Advance online publication.