Current college freshmen are more stressed than ever, according to a study from the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, which has been keeping track of student health for decades. The study found that only 51.9% of first-year college students considered their emotional health as above average -- that's down 3.4% since 2009 and down about 11% since 1985, the first year of this study.
Some reasons for the uptick in stress and anxiety among college freshmen include economic problems at home. The study found that 4.9% of students said their father was unemployed and 8.6% of student's mothers were without jobs, causing obvious financial difficulty in the family.
And while 53.1% of students are relying on loans to foot the college tuition bill, according to the survey, students still believe in the value of a college education: 72.7% of students say that college will enable them to earn a higher income later on in life.
As a college freshman, I can absolutely attest to the high levels of stress that students are under. That said, here's why I believe first-year college students should take a deep breath and look forward to the future:
1. Jobs: Let's face it, this is the main reason why we're worried. Who knows if we'll be able to find a job in three years when we graduate? No one knows! The good news is that while the current unemployment situation in the United States is in poor shape, college freshmen don't enter the job market until three years from now. The unemployment rate, which now stands at 9.4%, has a fairly strong chance of significantly dropping over the next four years. Bottom line: just because the job market is dismal in 2011, doesn't mean it'll be this bad in 2014.
2. Your Money: You cannot control the job market. But you can control your personal finances. Why add to the financial troubles most students already face by having your finances in a complete mess? In other words, take the simple steps to control your spending, get on a budget and build strong credit history. Over the next several months, implement the following steps into your life so you can sleep better at night and stop worrying about money:
-Credit Cards: First, only carry around one credit card. Cut up the rest (although don't close down the account, since that will hurt your credit score). Did you know that according to Sallie Mae, 50% of college students have over four credit cards? The goal of having a credit card while in college is to build credit history. Credit card should not be viewed as a way to spend money on frivolous items and rack up thousands of dollars in debt. Use your credit card for small purchases under $50 and pay the balance off in full each month and on time. For all other essential purchases, stick to cash!
-Expenses: Do you know how much money you spend each month? Use this online Expense Calculator to help track your expenses. If you have an iPhone, download the iXpenseIt app, which allows users to take a picture of the receipt after they make a purchase in a store and the app will store that data.
-Set Goals: Whether they're financial, career or academic goals, it's crucial to plan ahead and stick to ambitious, yet realistic goals. Do you want to finish the semester with a 3.9 GPA or do you want to pay off your credit card debt by the end of the year? Or maybe you want to get an internship in an industry that's in line with your career goals. Regardless, having aspirations will keep you focused and motivated.
Scott Gamm is a freshman at NYU's Stern School of Business and the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC's TODAY, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, Fox News, ABC News and CBS.
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