A Preliminary Assessment of the Impact of Counseling on Student Adjustment to College

By DeStefano, Thomas J.; Mellott, Ramona N. et al. | Journal of College Counseling, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

A Preliminary Assessment of the Impact of Counseling on Student Adjustment to College


DeStefano, Thomas J., Mellott, Ramona N., Petersen, Jerry D., Journal of College Counseling


This study compared adaptation to college for students receiving counseling at a university counseling center with adaptation by control counterparts. Students receiving counseling initially reported lower adaptation scores as measured by the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire. After counseling, scores no longer differentiated between the 2 groups. Results suggest chat counseled students were affected positively by this experience.

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University counseling centers have historically provided personal and vocational counseling services to college students (Pace, Stamler, Yarris, & June, 1996). However, in recent decades, counseling centers have faced increased demands for services by students seeking individual counseling for more serious emotional and mental health related difficulties (Gallagher, 1995; Stone & Archer, 1990). In a recent survey of counseling center directors (Gallagher, Gill, & Goldstrohm, 1997), 82% of those responding indicated that during the past 5 years, increased counselor time was devoted to students with "serious psychological problems." This increased demand for mental health services was also found by Johnson, Ellison, and Heikkinen (1989). Using adolescent norms on the Symptom Checklist-90 Revised, Johnson et al. showed that 30.3% of college men and 26.5% of college women had scores suggestive of psychiatric problems. These results support the findings of Offer and Spire (1987), who reported that 20% of incoming freshmen are in need of mental health care. Other serious problems that are now more frequently observed in counseling centers are substance abuse (Rivinus, 1988), suicide (Silverman, 1993), and sexual abuse (Aizenman & Kelley, 1988).

One consequence of increased demand for counseling services related to mental health is a decrease in many centers' developmental services and prevention programs (Corazzini, 1997). These programs have been traditionally valued as important services provided by counseling centers to the entire campus community. In addition, many counseling centers are experiencing demands to justify their existence in the face of budget cuts and administrative realignments (Bishop, 1990). Because of an increased focus on mental health issues and more concerns regarding financial resources, many administrators are questioning the role and function of counseling services to the larger mission of higher education. This trend has prompted an increased interest in the assessment of campus-based counseling services and outcomes.

Early studies suggested differences in social and emotional adjustment to college between students seeking counseling services and students not requesting counseling (Cooke & Kiesler, 1967; Rose & Elton, 1972). Sharp and Bishop (1975) investigated adjustment levels between counseled and noncounseled college students and found no significant differences in social or emotional adjustment between the two groups. However, when counseled students who had sought counseling for personal concerns were separated from students who were seeking vocational and educational counseling and then compared with the noncounseled group, significant differences on emotional and social adjustment were found. More recently, research conducted by Gerdes and Mallinckrodt (1994) suggested that social adjustment might be as important a factor in predicting persistence in college as academic factors.

Counseling services have been found effective in assisting student adjustment to college (Bishop, 1990; Schwitzer, Grogan, Kaddoura, & Ochoa, 1993); in improving student retention, academic grades, persistence in college (Illovsky, 1997; Rickinson, 1998; Wilson, Mason, & Ewing, 1997); and in graduation rates as well (Frank & Kirk, 1975). Wilson et al. (1997) found that students who received counseling services experienced a 14% increase in retention as compared with their noncounseled counterparts. …

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