Is student stress a myth?

Dickinson College president William G. Durden gave three words of advice to incoming freshmen choosing their extracurricular activities: “quality over quantity.”

His warning reflected a prevailing belief that students are stressed out and overwhelmed, but talking to students themselves suggests just the opposite.

“I participate in more activities in college than in high school because I have an open schedule and there are more activities to choose from,” says Steve Rosenbaum, a freshman at SUNY New Paultz. “I’m actually thinking about joining other clubs, just out of enjoyment.”

Most students seem to join clubs because they are eager to get involved rather than because they feel obligated to do so.

But students still have practical reasons for joining clubs. Max Fiddler, a sophomore at Ithaca College founding a cigar club, cites aspirations for graduate school as a reason to go the extra mile.

“I want to be active and participate, because honestly, it can be fun and you meet a lot of people,” he said. “But I’m also pressured into clubs or groups to build my resume.”

Other students join clubs because they feel they do not have enough to do. Boredom is definitely a factor for Marianne Clinton, a freshman at the University of Maryland.

“I feel like I need to join something because otherwise I feel like I am not doing something with my life,” she said. But in spite of her compulsion to participate, Clinton said she does not want to stress herself out. “If you spread yourself too thin, you won’t get the benefits out of your favorite clubs,” she said.

A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that students are better at handling extracurriculars than some observers give them credit for. The study, titled “Organized Activity Participation, Positive Youth Development, and the Over-Scheduling Hypothesis,” concluded that students are naturally motivated to join organized activities and most can balance them with other obligations.

“Students have always primarily enjoyed their activities, that’s what our research shows,” said Jacquelynne Eccles. “The reason that the dominant perception that students are overwhelmed is because those instances are more highly publicized. In actuality, those cases are among a very small percentage of students.”

“I haven’t been college long enough to find activities that I want to do,” Marianne Clinton said. “But I want to pick two or three activities that I really like and concentrate on them.”

Durden may have exaggerated student stress levels, but Eccles urged students to consider his statement. She said that colleges overemphasize the importance of extracurricular activities and that it is refreshing to hear a university official encouraging moderation.

“Students should be doing activities because they want to, not because they think they will get into college or grad school,” Eccles said.

Students across the nation seem to agree. “I just do what interests me,” said Rebecca Solomon, a junior at Ramapo College in New Jersey. “I’m very involved in two clubs and that’s enough for me. I like having down time.”

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