Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

The Effect of Social Anxiety and Self-Esteem on College Adjustment, Academics, and Retention

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

The Effect of Social Anxiety and Self-Esteem on College Adjustment, Academics, and Retention

Article excerpt

With the majority of high school graduates entering college (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011), there is an increased need to understand the developmental challenges students may face during their transition to a higher education institution. According to Tinto (1993), approximately 63% of college students will leave their first institution before receiving their degree, with approximately 29% departing after their 1st year and most leaving after their first semester. In his model, Tinto distinguished between external forces (i.e., finances, obligations) and internal causes of student departure (i.e., adjustment, academic difficulty, institutional mismatch, loneliness).

Although the first-semester transition deeply challenges the developmental core of all students, those coping with internal stressors as a result of mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to adjustment problems that may compromise their longevity at the institution (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). In a survey of more than 1,033 college students, one out of seven students reported that mental health problems were interfering with their daily functioning at college, one third reported ongoing feelings of depression, and one fourth reported feelings of suicidal ideation (Laughlin & Robinson, 2004). Social anxiety disorder (SAD) exemplifies a mental health condition worthy of study in the college population because of its impact on students' social and emotional adjustment to college. Adolescents with SAD fear that they will embarrass or humiliate themselves in a social or performance situation, and contact with that situation triggers impairing levels of anxiety that significantly disrupt their functioning in daily tasks and activities. Although adolescents realize that their fear is unreasonable, they still avoid the situation, or tolerate it with severe discomfort. These symptoms must be present for at least 6 months and must not be due to the effect of a substance (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Traditional-aged college students are in a dangerous age range that places them between the typical onset and worsening of SAD symptoms. The mean age onset is 10 to 16 years, with a stability of symptoms emerging around age 19 and a solidification of symptoms emerging after age 24 (Wittchen & Fehm, 2003). SAD is also a risk factor for the development of other mental health disorders, such as depression, other anxiety disorders, and eating disorders (Izgic, Akyuz, Dogan, & Kugu, 2004; Stein et al., 2001). Prevalence rates range from 17% to 21% in child and adolescent populations (Van Ameringen, Mancini, & Farvolden, 2003) and 19% among undergraduate students (Beidel, Turner, Stanley, & Dancu, 1989). Stewart and Mandrusiak (2007) found that 42% of lst-year students from a psychology course reported clinical levels of social anxiety symptoms. This statistic compares favorably with the 49% of students from a sample receiving counseling services at their university who reported experiencing the same symptoms. Our study is one of the first to examine the impact of social anxiety on college students across their first semester and explore the potential meditating role of self-esteem.

Social Anxiety and College Adjustment

For most students, satisfaction with social support significantly predicts college academic, social, and personal/emotional adjustment and grade point average (GPA; Brooks & DuBois, 1995). Boulter (2002) found that positive relationships with instructors predicted positive academic adjustment. However, students with social anxiety may miss the opportunity to use the buffering effects of social support during their transitional experience. Urani, Miller, Johnson, and Petzel (2003) found that social anxiety predicted higher levels of homesickness at the start of the first semester and lower levels of social support at the end.

Social anxiety also negatively affects other aspects of college life, such as academic performance and persistence. …

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