College Freshmen Report: Students Are Stressed and Depressed

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"The gender gap is pretty telling," Cornell, 22, said. "Guys still don't openly talk about their feelings. When I am feeling stressed, I head to the gym or watch TV with a friend or play [video game] Halo, and on weekends hang out and go to the campus bar. Girls feel it's more readily acceptable to go and get help."

College students say the pressure ratchets up significantly after freshman year as they move closer to graduation and must secure internships and, eventually, jobs in a weak economy.

"I am torn in three different directions," said Romen Borsellino, a junior at Amherst College in Massachusetts. "I have to do something to make money, got to build a resume and find something I like to do. That alone is terrifying, especially during a busy school year.

"The higher up you get in college, the more terrifying it is," he said. "The stakes are really high."

The academic rat race begins early. Yale professor Amy Chua published an essay this month in The Wall Street Journal, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," for instance, describing the pressure she put on her two teenage daughters to succeed: no sleepovers, no play dates, hours of violin practice.

"There's been a lot of talk lately because of the 'Tiger Mom,'" said Borsellino, referring to Chua. "There's got to be a middle ground between how hard our parents worked us and enjoying life."

The number of freshmen who said that they had been frequently overwhelmed by their senior in year in high school rose from 27 percent to 29 percent, according to the survey.

Callie Orsini, a senior at Maplewood High School in New Jersey, said the stress had begun for her at 13 with the first college information session.

Student Stress Begins in High School

"They were adamant about getting everyone on that track," Callie, 17, said.

By sophomore year, the pressure to pick a college was so intense that Callie couldn't sleep. So she started caring less and her grades suffered.

Her mother, Patty Orsini, said her daughter's high school years had been "fraught with uncertainty" and she knew Callie was pushing back when she shut down and wouldn't even engage in a conversation about college.

"I was aware this sort of thing started early and decided we are not going to get caught up in this," she said. "I am not going to push my kid to do everything, to build up the resume. Let them figure it out themselves."

"But it's very difficult to do that," Orsini said. "You start talking to people and everyone's kid is bright and exceptional. You are trying to pull back but think, 'I am not doing enough for my kid, I am not pushing her hard enough.'"

Callie has now decided to postpone college for a year to travel or do volunteer work.

As for kids' source of stress, a New Jersey tutor who helps high school students with their college applications said parents also contribute.

She had a confrontation with a parent whose daughter had been rejected early by the University of Pennsylvania but insisted that the tutor prepare applications for Yale and Harvard.

"She came to me at the 11th hour, a week before Christmas," said the tutor, who requested anonymity.

The mother wanted her to help the daughter write an essay but refused payment when it disappointed her.

"I am paying you $200 an hour to make my daughter look like superwoman," wrote the mother, who wanted the essay to portray her daughter as "the sun, moon and an angel."

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