For high school students applying to top colleges in the nation, the stress of higher education doesn’t end with an admission or rejection notice, or the decision many of now grappling with—which school to attend.
High academic expectations can result in a high-stress college environment, with young women, it turns out, even more prone than men to freshman stress. But colleges and students aren’t powerless. Sports teams and fraternal groups can reduce stress, and some pressure cooker schools are using out-of-the-box thinking to help students relax—Yale University, for instance, recently completed a trial program that allowed students to spend time with a therapy dog by appointment.
Last year, when we ranked the most stressful colleges in the country, the national focus was on the six suicides at Cornell University that had occurred during the academic year. We consulted with national experts on college stress, including Keith Anderson, chairman of best practices at the American College Health Association, to find the factors most likely to contribute to a stressful college campus—tuition costs, overall competitiveness, crime, acceptance rate, and the difficulty of the school’s engineering program. While suicides are no longer making national headlines, college stress is an annual concern come April. The criteria and weighting remain the same for this year, but the results vary. We started with the top 50 colleges in the country according to the most recent U.S. News & World Report ranking. We then ranked for stress based on:
• The cost: Financial pressure is a huge stress-inducer. Tuition plus room and board, weighted at 35 percent, since financial pressure is one the top stress drivers, with 2010-2011 data from the National Center on Education Statistics. For state universities, in-state tuition figures were used. • Competitiveness: How academically rigorous is the school? Weighted at 35 percent, with 2011 data from U.S. News & World Report. • Acceptance rate: More competitive schools generally produce a more competitive student body. Weighted at 10 percent, with Fall 2010 data from the National Center on Education Statistics. • Engineering: Is the school known for its particularly rigorous graduate engineering program? (If so, there’s a high stress correlation.) Weighted at 10 percent, with 2011 data from U.S. News & World Report. • Crime on campus: Adapted from The Daily Beast’s analysis of college crime, weighted at 10 percent and ranked relative to this particular group of colleges. With data from the U.S. Department of Education.
Ranking within each category is relative to the 50 schools—Washington University in St. Louis, for instance, ranks 12th in the nation for crime, but among this cohort it ranks third. Three schools—California Institute of Technology, Rice University, and Brandeis University—were too small to meet our crime ranking criteria. For these three, weighting for the four other data categories was increased by 2.5 percent.
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