Kids who aim for top colleges know full well that this month's stress over which envelope—-thick or thin—is only the beginning. And in recent weeks, concerns about the pressure cooker environment on some campuses have escalated. At Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., there have been six confirmed suicides this academic year, including two on successive days last month. Last week, Cornell installed chain-link fencing along many of the bridges that cross the gorges on campus, serving both as deterrent and a physical reminder.
According to a 2009 article in Professional Psychology, 6 percent of participating undergraduates and 4 percent of graduate students in four-year colleges said they had “seriously considered attempting suicide” in the past year—and nearly half of each group did not tell anyone.
Even for the vast majority of students who never experience such feelings, high stress and general mental well being can be a concern. Moving away from home for the first time and starting a rigorous academic program can contribute to high stress, and stress tends to be higher at campuses with “a student body that is in general more the type-A characteristic type of students,” says Keith Anderson, chairman of best practices at the American College Health Association.
“Students who go into the sciences and engineering programs, in general,” he adds, “they’re probably going to be a little higher across the board stress level-wise students.”
While it is impossible to quantify the stress an individual feels, there’s a lot of data on stressful environments. To determine the most stressful American colleges, we put our lens to the top 50 universities in the U.S. News and World Report rankings, using methodology informed by Anderson. Five criteria were taken into account:
• The cost: Financial pressure is a huge stress-inducer. Tuition plus room and board, weighted at 35 percent. With 2009-2010 data from the National Center on Education Statistics.
• Competitiveness: How academically rigorous is the school? Weighted at 35 percent, with 2010 data from US News & World Report.
• Acceptance rate: More competitive schools generally produce a more competitive student body. Weighted at 10 percent, with 2010 data from US News & World Report.
• Engineering: Is the school known for its particularly rigorous graduate engineering program? Weighted at 10 percent, with 2010 data from US 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 US Department of Education.