Study is bad for health and faith

February 15, 2002

The first year at university is taking a toll on the physical and mental health of many American students, according to a new survey.

Significant numbers of students said that once they arrived at college, they stopped exercising and felt anxious and depressed.

Nearly 40 per cent say they feel bored in class, and there is also a big drop-off after the first year in the number who attend religious services.

The survey, conducted jointly by Brevard College in North Carolina and the University of California at Los Angeles, compared the responses of 3,680 students at 50 four-year institutions before and after their first years of higher education.

The percentage that rated their emotional health as above average fell from more than 52 to less than 45 during that time, and while more than 51 per cent considered themselves in good physical condition at the beginning of the year, barely 41 per cent did at the end. About 12 per cent of students said they no longer exercised.

The percentage of students who felt depressed nearly doubled between the start of the first year and the finish, from 8.2 to 16.3. About 44 per cent said they felt "overwhelmed" by workloads.

Most students also exceeded their financial means. More than 60 per cent said they had overspent their budgets, and nearly 17 per cent were contending with "excessive" credit card debt.

And many turned away from religion. While nearly 85 per cent of arriving students said they attended religious services, that number dipped to less than 60 per cent by year's end.

"Going to college, especially if a student is going away from home, represents one of the most significant transitions of anyone's life," said Betsy Barefoot, co-director of the Policy Center on the First Year of College at Brevard.

She said universities should be encouraged to provide informal support groups, or furnish older students or staff as mentors for freshmen.

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