College students encounter newfound responsibilities

Benjamin Cohn

Contributor

bcohn@unca.edu

Students at UNC Asheville must do something they have never had to do: assume complete control over their lives, according to university faculty.

Enrolling in a college or university represents one of the most challenging things a person can do, said Jay Cutspec, director of UNCA’s Health and Counseling Center.

“If you wanted to pick a stressful time in a person’s life, that (transition from high school to college) would be one of the most stressful,” Cutspec said.

Several other factors, including the student’s temperament, play into the effect of stress on students,  Cutspec said.

“Some of us are wired differently,”Cutspec said. “Your temperament lends some to be stressful versus laid back.”

Most universities may not have buildings as imposing as those at Trinity College. However, stress upon entering is a universal experience. Photo by Juan Salmoral
Most universities may not have buildings as imposing as those at Trinity College. However, stress upon entering is a universal experience. Photo by Juan Salmoral

Additionally a student’s self-expectations create individualized levels of stress tolerance, the mental health administrator said.

“There is a huge range from, ‘I have no expectations of myself,’ to ‘I must get straight A’s,’” Cutspec said.

Students with low expectations of themselves would stress less over poor marks than ones who expect excellence, Cutspec said.

Rebecca Vines enrolled this year as a freshman at UNCA. The music business student said grades do not cause her much stress.

“I was pretty pleased with my grades, but they were a result of pretty consistent hard work,” she said, adding negative emotions like anxiety and stress are present in academic life, but they are expected.

“I don’t necessarily feel only positively about my grades,” Vines said, “but I know that to do it well is time-consuming.”

Students experiencing stress have trouble seeking the help that would save them from poor grades, according to Cutspec.

“They just don’t feel capable of that. They don’t want to go to the professor. They’re resistant to asking for help,” Cutspec said. “They don’t want to go to the writing center, the math lab or to tutoring. It goes into that whole self-expectations thing.”

Students view seeking help as a sign of weakness, and feel that they should be able to do the work themselves, Cutspec said.

“In high school they can get by with doing as minimal as possible. Then, all of a sudden, they’re in college and they realize that doesn’t work anymore. So, that means they have to develop study habits that they’ve never had to develop before,” Cutspec said.

Jason Wingert, 38, teaches anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology at UNCA.

Coping strategies, ones learned and not learned, signify the most important elements of a student’s stress, the associate professor said.

“We learn coping strategies by watching our families,” Wingert said. “That might be parents or siblings.”

Coping strategies include the ability to see problems clearly and to react rationally. Synthesizing and executing an appropriate response to challenge reflects an ideal coping strategy, according to Wingert, a Washington University alumnus.

A student’s social support system presents another important factor. The relationship between faculty and students comprise aspects both professional and practical, Wingert said, including both academic and broader life advice.

Wingert said a professor may be appropriate for life advice but not for counseling, and that college represents a chance to identify personal issues and undergo great personal growth.

“In college, there is a counseling center right on campus. A big part of growing is identifying our own weaknesses and taking this opportunity to grow,” he said.

Wingert added free resources abound at UNCA for those who seek help.

The first step many students struggle with is beginning a project. Photo by Flickr user Michael
The first step many students struggle with is beginning a project. Photo by Flickr user Michael

 

“There are lots of resources available at a college campus that, quite frankly, aren’t available when a person leaves,” Wingert said. He added many people on campus miss this opportunity to grow.

“Many people continue to struggle their whole lives and never address those issues,” Wingert said.

The keys to success in college include clear thinking and a receptive mind, according to UNCA faculty.

Optimism comes naturally when contemplating the future of UNCA students, Wingert said.

“There’s a ton of hope. I feel like this semester I have my best students ever.”

 

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