In this paper we assert that the college experience is a potentially stressful life event that for many, requires a relevant social network to successfully navigate (Bandura, 2004; Brown, Ganesan, & Challagalla, 2001; Dyson & Renk, 2006). We further suggest disclosure of college experiences as both a means of stress reduction (Pennebaker & Francis, 1996) and a potential indicator of opportunities to disclose information with a relevant social network (Bandura, 1977; 2004). In a previous study (Barry, Hudley, Cho, & Kelly, in press), we found evidence that first-generation college students receive social and emotional support from parents, and educational encouragement from parents equivalent to that of their peers; however, differences emerged when these students were asked about discussion of college experiences with parents specifically. As an extension of that research, our interests here are to investigate differences in disclosure of college-related experiences and the proximity of relevant social networks of first-generation college students in comparison to other college freshmen. We investigate these differences by first-generation status and acknowledge the potential influences of ethnicity.
College as a Stressful Life Event
The transition to college can be characterized as a stressful life event due to the variety of life changes that typically co-occur at this time. Social stresses associated with the college transition may include anxiety about moving away from home, family, friends, and a familiar environment and the need to forge new social relationships with roommates, friends, and dating partners at college (Dyson & Renk, 2006; Tinto, 1987). Increased academic responsibilities of college life may also create stress, including increased course load expectations and growing financial obligations (Hey, Calderon, & Seabert, 2003; Ting, 2003). Stress may also come from college students' growing personal independence such as cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, managing credit and bank accounts, and paying bills for the first time (Hey et al., 2003; Ting, 2003).
First-generation College Student Stress
The transition to college can be particularly stressful for first-generation college students (Ishitani, 2003). These students are more likely to work longer hours and have greater family responsibilities than their later-generation peers (Curtona, Cole, Colangelo, Assouline, & Russell, 1994). By first generation, we mean students who are in the first generation of their family to attend a four-year institution of higher education. In general, first-generation college students are less likely to apply to college, less likely to attend college, and more likely to apply to less prestigious colleges (Massey, Charles, Lundy, & Fischer, 2003; Pascarella, Peirson, Wolniak, & Terenzini, 2004; Phinney, Dennis, & Osorio, 2006).
Once enrolled, these students are less successful in their courses and are less likely to complete college (Ishitani, 2003; Ishitani, 2006; Nunez & Cuccaro-Alamin, 1998). These differences hold even when variability due to ethnicity, gender, SES, GPA, family composition, and achievement test scores are accounted for (Ishitani, 2003; Ishitani, 2006; Pascarella et al., 2004). That is, regardless of demographic and personal differences, first-generation status remains a statistically significant indicator of difficulty in adjusting to and succeeding in college (Ishitani, 2003; Ishitani, 2006). Such differences in the college experiences of first-generation students suggest that college may be especially stressful for them.
Individuals faced with stressful life events who also feel socially isolated and embarrassed, or feel that they lack support, typically also lack opportunities to disclose and discuss stressful events (Pennebaker & Beall, 1986; Pennebaker, Colder, & Sharp, 1990; Pennebaker & Francis, 1996). …