Are today's students working too hard?

by Laura Edghill
Posted 2/19/15, 04:05 pm

Today’s high school seniors party less and study more than their parents did. Most moms and dads might not think that’s a problem, but their kids do. According to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) annual survey of college freshman, students say they’re overworked and stressed out.

Released just this week, the survey results paint a stark picture of millennials facing greater pressure than ever to succeed academically and subsequently having less time for fun and socialization, said Kevin Eagan, the Higher Education Research Institute’s managing director and an assistant professor at UCLA.

“The declines we have seen in time spent partying and the frequency of alcohol use in high school, and the increases we have seen in the number of college applications students are submitting, and their reporting feeling overwhelmed, are all signs students are internalizing this message that they need to take the last year of high school seriously,” Eagan said.

And while the same students in the ’80s might have spent leisurely hours hanging out with friends at the mall or watching MTV together, today’s students spend the smallest amount of time socializing with friends since the survey’s inception 30 years ago.

In 1987, close to 38 percent of surveyed students reported spending 16 hours or more per week socializing. Fast forward to 2014 and only 18 percent spent that much time with friends. An all-time high of nearly 39 percent dedicated five hours or less to socializing per week.

The survey findings are no surprise to Isabella Galeazi, who juggles a job at McDonald’s and a musical production internship along with a full-time course load at California State University, Fullerton. The challenge of balancing her competing responsibilities often leaves her feeling snowed under with little time for a social life, Galeazi said.

“My parents are always saying, ‘When they were in school, when they were in school,’ but I can show them my math homework and they have no clue how to do it,” she said. “The work load is a lot heavier and the work is a lot harder. There is so much pressure to do well in high school or otherwise you won’t get into college, and if you don't do well in college you won’t get a job.”

Finding a job is a sobering prospect for graduates. Current supply outstrips demand in numerous popular career tracks, leading many to accept jobs for which their degrees are irrelevant, or pursue expensive graduate degrees that they may not really want or need.

And while it’s tempting to celebrate the significant reduction in alcohol consumption, the survey also showed first-year college students’ sense of emotional well-being is at its lowest since the survey was first administered in 1985. That trend puts increased strain on campus mental health services but also presents unprecedented opportunities for campus ministries seeking to support students where they are most vulnerable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • cherievon
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:34 pm

    Met an 18 year old waitress the other day who owns her own house, is finishing her senior year of high school as well as taking community college classes, while holding down two jobs (waitressing and nursing assistant.) Has a boyfriend (who she is NOT living with) who works just as hard. She is beautiful, articulate, cheerful and very upbeat about her circumstances (very dysfunctional family of origin) and future... quite a breath of fresh air! I say, do it while you are young and full of energy.

  •  Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:34 pm

    I worked  / paid my way through college in the 80's with very little time to socialize.  As far as my socialite high school class mates go, I surpassed most all of them regarding careers.  And I was a long way from being the smartest!  Keeping them busy keeps them out of trouble.

  • cherievon
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:34 pm

    Two thoughts: did they take into account social media as time spent socializing with friends? Judging from my interactions with this age group, seems that social media has replaced a large percentage of time that used to be spent in friends' actual physical presence. And then: take a look at the actual survey... WOW. That would make a story in and of itself. I wonder if it is mandatory. Quite invasive and reflective of popular culture.

  • Tracymom's picture
    Posted: Fri, 04/15/2016 05:34 pm

    This article is hard to follow, as it goes back and forth between the stresses/workload/socializing time of high school seniors and college freshmen, seeming to equate them.  In the 80's (when I was finishing both high school and college), high school wasn't too hard and college wasn't a requirement for many jobs.  Seniors not planning to attend college therefore had more free time.College was significantly more difficult than high school, with very little free time, especially for students working jobs to pay their expenses.  Also, any college-level math class with homework doable by a parent who has not studied math for 20-30 years would have to be very simple indeed.