The Impact of COVID-19 on College Students

A new study analyzes the psychological impact of COVID-19 on college students.

Posted Jun 03, 2020

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

by Georgina Fairbrother

COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives of millions around the world, including college students. The pandemic has shifted classes online and sent many students back home to their parents. A recent study conducted in China on Chinese college students aimed to analyze the psychological impact of this abrupt change and shift in livelihood. The study was conducted with three main purposes in mind:

“(1) To evaluate the mental situation of college students during the epidemic

(2) to provide a theoretical basis for psychological interventions with college students

(3) to provide a basis for the promulgation of national and governmental policies.”

The study was conducted on undergraduate students at Changzhi Medical College through cluster sampling. The study was implemented through anonymous structured questionnaires: 7,143 respondents completed the questionnaire and were included in the final analysis. The questionnaire packet included demographic questions, along with inquiries about their cognitions and preventative behavior regarding COVID-19. The students' access to social support was also surveyed. Lastly, the study had students respond to the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale (GAD-7). The study was approved by the ethics committee at Changzhi Medical College and all participants voluntarily gave their information.

The data collected by the survey was divided by demographic data and data regarding anxiety levels. Of the participants, two-thirds were women. All of the participants lived in the Hubei province, with 43.83% of participants living in rural areas of the province. Of those surveyed, 95.4% lived with their parents, with 52.86% reporting that their parents did not have a steady income; and 99.54% of respondents had no relatives or acquaintances infected with COVID-19.

With regard to mental health, the study determined that of the 7,143 college students, three-quarters showed no symptoms of anxiety (75.1%). Of the others surveyed, 21.3% displayed mild anxiety, 2.7% showed moderate anxiety, and 0.9% displayed severe anxiety in relation to COVID-19. The researchers studied the demographic responses to indicate anxiety influencers, and determined that students living alone and students living without a steady income had an increased level of anxiety. It was also determined that gender and region did not influence anxiety outcomes.

In further analysis, the study also determined that factors such as economic stability and delayed studies increased anxiety levels among students. The researchers determined that some of the biggest anxiety stressors for college students were in relation to delayed studies and future employment opportunities. A third factor was that physical distance from classmates likely gradually increased anxiety symptoms throughout the extended period of quarantine.

Overall, the study determined that students' anxiety with regard to the pandemic stemmed from their housing and economic situations. Often, the mental health of college students can be overlooked, especially during a pandemic. It is important, moving forward, to check in on students, particularly those living by themselves or facing financial hardship. While this study was completed in China, many of the same stressors are likely indicators of anxiety for college students in the U.S. We are living in an unprecedented time; it is important to keep an eye out for those around us.

Georgina Fairbrother is a current master’s student in the Humanitarian and Disaster Leadership program at Wheaton College. Prior to her master’s degree, she received a bachelor’s degree in Global Security and Intelligence studies from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.