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A tough time on campus: Majority of freshmen feel emotionally unprepared for college

By Bethany Bray November 5, 2015

A recent survey of first-year college students reveals that a majority felt emotionally unprepared for college, while more than 1 in 3 (38 percent) felt anxious most of the time during their first term.

The survey, a project cosponsored by the Jordan Porco Foundation, the Partnership for Drug-free Kids and the JED Foundation, questioned more than 1,500 first-year students at two- and four-year college across the U.S. this past spring (March and April).

The results, released in October, indicate that a large number of students have negative experiences CollegeScooterduring their first year at college, ranging from stress over expenses and staying in touch with family to drug and alcohol use.

Sixty percent of the students surveyed said they wished they had gotten more help with emotional preparation before college, while 50 percent reported their independent living skills “need improvement.”

Survey organizers defined emotional preparedness as “the ability to take care of oneself, adapt to new environments, control negative emotions or behavior and build positive relationships.”


Survey highlights include:

  • 60 percent of students agreed (either “somewhat” or “strongly”) with the statement “I wish I had more help getting emotionally ready for college.” Female respondents (66 percent) were more likely than male respondents (52 percent) to agree with the statement.
  • 45 percent of students agreed with the statement “It seems like everyone has college figured out but me.”
  • When asked how they felt most of the time during their first term at college, 50 percent of students chose “stressed”; 46 percent chose “happy”; 38 percent chose “anxious”; 37 percent chose “optimistic”; 34 percent chose “in control”; 25 percent chose “lonely”; and 22 percent chose “depressed.” (Students were able to select more than one adjective.)
  • 36 percent said they did not feel they were in control of managing the day-to-day stress of college life.
  • 54 percent said they had a hard time making new friends and feeling like they belonged.
  • Nearly one-third (30 percent) reported consuming alcohol or drugs “regularly” during their first term.
  • 25 percent of students said they seriously considered transferring schools during their first term.
  • 45 percent assigned an overall “good” rating to their first college term, while 30 percent chose “fair,” 14 percent said “excellent,” 8 percent selected “poor” and 3 percent chose “terrible.”
  • 87 percent of students said more emphasis in high school was placed on being academically ready rather than emotionally ready for college.
  • More than half of students (51 percent) said they found it difficult to get emotional support at college when they needed it. Of those who did seek support, the majority of students said they would likely turn to friends (76 percent) or family (64 percent) rather than college/university staff (24 percent).
  • 65 percent of students reported usually keeping their feelings about the difficulty of college to themselves. African American students were more likely to make this statement than were white students (75 percent vs. 61 percent, respectively).
  • More than half of respondents said that while in high school, they felt “a great deal of pressure” to attend a well-known college. They also reported that their school placed a greater emphasis on college prestige over individual “fit.”





The full report can be downloaded at


Counselors: Are you surprised at these statistics? How could (or should) it affect the work of counselors who have teenage clients in high school or college?

Share your thoughts in a reply below.




Related reading


From Counseling Today: “College disorientation


From The Week: “What a successful university mental health program looks like





Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


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