The Top 6 Challenges College Students Face

July 31, 2023 Watermark Insights

The Top 6 Challenges College Students Face

Many college students hope to earn a degree and improve their livelihood at home and work. However, after students begin their college experience, they often face challenges that might seem insurmountable. These obstacles can prevent some students from achieving those hopes and dreams. Higher education institutions must identify students' challenges and implement strategies to help them cope. When students have the support they need, they have more freedom to focus on their academics, improving their chances of success.

The most common kinds of problems students face are related to academics, accessibility, finances, living environment, mental health and wellness, and time management.

Financial Uncertainty

Financial stress has a significant impact on a student's ability to succeed both academically and socially. Most students can't write checks or pay through a savings account for their college meal plans, tuition, books, and materials. College is a significant investment, and financial uncertainty is common among students. This worry can compound for those who need to support their families while also staying enrolled in college

The majority of college students use loans to pay for their college and personal expenses, so they will also face the reality of student loan debt after graduation.

Poor financial security can negatively impact students' mental health. Worrying over finances might contribute to or worsen mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Financial insecurity is also a major reason students defer or drop out of school.

Some students also have to work to cover college expenses, so their academics suffer. They spend the time they can use for studying instead working to cover their costs. Students facing financial stress also find it more challenging to navigate relationships with their wealthier peers, leading to feelings of embarrassment and isolation. 

Students often need help navigating their financial obligations. Institutions can offer students support in various ways to alleviate challenges that students face in university associated with financial stress. 

  • Allocate funds to cover textbooks for students or offer low-cost or no-cost options. This funding will ensure that all students have adequate access to the necessary course material. 
  • Make university events free or lower ticket prices so all students can attend. 
  • Provide financial aid and support services. Ensure that student advisors and faculty communicate these support services to students in need. 

Difficulty Managing Commitments

Balancing time commitments can be another challenge for college students. Many must work full- or part-time jobs, attend classes, and care for family, making good time management challenging. Even traditional college students must juggle part-time jobs, internships, and extracurricular activities like intercollegiate athletics. Responsibilities can overwhelm students, especially those who have not attended college or who have been out of school for many years.

Many struggle to prioritize tasks, manage time effectively, and ask for help when needed. But given that increased stress and anxiety levels can make good decision-making even harder, it's easy to see why managing commitments is the second most frequent challenge faced by college students today.

It's essential that institutions help students find time management techniques that work best for them. It is a critical skill that students need to learn to succeed in college. There is a range of time management techniques that students can use, which include: 

  • Utilizing tools like calendars and reminders.
  • Keeping a detailed schedule.
  • Setting a series of alarms to help them get up in the morning.

If students feel like they are drowning, the most important thing for them to know is that they can get the help they need. Student advisors and even more organized peers can help students create a plan to balance their commitments. 

Inadequate Academic Preparedness

It is common for college students to realize that they needed more than their previous academic preparation to prepare them for college. The underprepared student may not have taken the appropriate college preparatory courses or stayed in certain academic courses long enough to retain the required information. 

This under-preparedness means that the underprepared student will likely need remedial courses to regain or attain a base level of academic competency. This phenomenon of students requiring remedial education is a growing challenge at institutions nationwide. Many colleges and universities have students who earned satisfactory grades in high school but struggle to write a good paragraph or solve an algebra equation.

Academic challenges may cause stress and anxiety for students while confusing instructors. As a student service professional, identifying and understanding these challenges students face is crucial to the job. Helping students work through these obstacles can be rewarding and difficult.

Accessibility Challenges

Many students with disabilities, accessibility needs, or learning challenges may struggle to manage college projects and assignments. Others may find it challenging to navigate physical spaces if they need to travel across campus. Many students from all walks of life have specific wants and needs and require accommodations to complete their coursework and degrees.

For example, some students may have learning challenges and require access to assistive technology and software, a notetaker, or special tutoring services. Others with physical disabilities require easy access to campus classrooms, libraries, laboratories, or housing. 

Without accessible services, students may feel uncared for and tempted to drop out. Others may struggle to get involved in the campus community when they can't find places to accommodate them. Whether your students need a sign language interpreter, time for testing, a sighted guide, or options for adaptive campus activities, making the college accessible can create a welcoming atmosphere, improve mental and physical well-being, and reduce dropouts.

Living Environment Challenges

Living on their own for the first time can be challenging for students. Many first-generation students might also suffer, as they are the first in their families to experience the college lifestyle. Some living environment challenges might include the following:

  • Bad roommates: Some roommates do not get along, have different sleeping schedules, or have different opinions on cleanliness.
  • Lack of privacy: Students might not like the lack of privacy due to sharing a room or living in a dorm with other people.
  • Bathrooms: Some shared bathrooms or communal bathrooms offer cleaning or privacy challenges.
  • Sharing laundry machines: Timing your laundry loads can be difficult, especially if you've never done laundry by yourself.
  • Illnesses: Illnesses like colds and flu cases spread much more quickly when living in a dorm.
  • Small space: Some dorms are tiny, offering little room to move, live, or socialize. 
  • Distractions: Students might be distracted by others when trying to do homework or complete projects.
  • Lack of sleep: Some students might be noisy during the evenings, or others might need to get used to living in a dorm and sleeping in a new bed.
  • Cleanliness: Cleaning up after themselves and managing their own schedule can be very challenging for new students.

While the challenges students face in school with regard to living on campus are numerous, supporting students during their transition from home to college can be integral to creating a good experience. Ensure your students have resources where they can find advice, address personal issues, and resolve challenges.

Mental Health and Wellness Issues

More than 60% of college students met the criteria for at least one mental health problem in the 2020-2021 school year. Many college students struggle with mental health due to stress from coursework or anxiety from friendships and romantic relationships. For example, some students experience mental turmoil due to the pressure of completing a degree. The combination of classes, work commitments, extracurricular activities, and relationships can be difficult for people to handle emotionally. Other students might experience fatigue, depression, or insomnia due to excess stress.

Mental Health and Wellness Issues

Faculty members are often the first line of defense when it comes to identifying and confronting student mental health challenges. In their interactions with students, they can pick up on changes in behavior, such as a drop in attendance and failure to submit assignments, that may indicate a student is struggling. Faculty need to be able to spot when something is wrong and know where to refer students to get help.

Colleges must also think outside the box and find creative solutions to support students, especially with limited resources. Instead of waiting weeks to see a counselor, institutions can use a stepped approach where counselors see students needing urgent care immediately. Group therapy can also help students connect with peers with the support of a counselor.

Physical health also plays an important role in improving mental health. Colleges must invest in fitness facilities and sports clubs that prompt physical health too. Dining facilities also need to include healthy meal options that promote wellness.

Physical issues may also present themselves. Because students share dorm rooms and interact socially with many people, it can be common for students to experience colds, flu, or other temporary illnesses. While a cold might not present a larger challenge to students, other physical pains and conditions might be difficult to manage. 

For example, physical symptoms like headaches, migraines, muscle pain and soreness, poor eating habits, or substance and alcohol misuse may result from the added stress of college. 

Address Common Student Issues With Help From Watermark

The challenges students face in college can impact their ability to succeed and complete their studies. Each student is unique, and student advisors must understand the challenges of individuals and work with them to overcome them. Colleges can use innovative solutions to identify and mitigate challenges their students face, even with limited resources.

Watermark provides higher education institutions with data collection services or analysis software to make reliable and knowledgeable decisions. Community colleges and universities leverage our services for research and planning processes or assessment and accreditation. For institutions that want to address student issues, Watermark data can help you recognize challenges and implement solutions immediately. 

Our company created Watermark Student Success & Engagement to help institutions more easily track student challenges, document communications, identify interventions, collaborate with other institutional resources, and make referrals. Request a demo today to learn more about the other features and tools available in Watermark Student Success & Engagement and how you can help your students achieve their goals.

Address Common Student Issues With Help From Watermark

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