As the 2022-2023 academic year ends, Cornellians reflect on their time in Ithaca, and recount the pressures they’ve faced throughout the year.
A 2018 survey from the American College Health Association reported that around 90 percent of college students felt overwhelmed and physically exhausted by school-related responsibilities, including stress of exams along with extracurriculars. About 60 percent of students reported that they felt a large amount of anxiety or depression. These statistics are part of a larger national debate regarding the mental health of college students –– many are trying to figure out what factors are contributing to these issues.
Natalie Meredith ’25 feels that pressure from Cornell’s competitive environment is a factor in declining student mental health.
“Being in a competitive environment comes with the urge to compare yourself to others,” Meredith said. “This type of environment pushes me to succeed, but often at the expense of my mental health, so overall I would say it causes more harm than good.
For some students, like Mikala Anderson ’23, this competitive environment is exacerbated with pressures from family.
“My family expects the best of me,” Anderson said. “I often worry that my grades aren’t good enough for them, especially coming from a high school where I excelled academically.”
Like Anderson, Aaron Flores ’25 experiences pressure to make his family proud and to make the most of his education at Cornell.
“As a son of immigrant parents, I feel the need to constantly prove to them that the sacrifices they have made for me in the past were worth it,” Flores said. “I have to make sure that my grades are top-notch.”
Another main stressor among Cornell students is the pressure to land a job or internship within a competitive market. Lauren Douglass ’24 says that the expectation to get a job is her main source of anxiety during her time at Cornell.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers conducted a survey analyzing the difficulties students face while trying to find a job during Covid times. The report found in 2020, only about 50.2 percent of bachelor’s graduates receive a full-time job immediately after graduation.
“Being around so many smart people makes it really easy to think you’re never doing enough,” Douglass said. “A huge part of my anxiety comes from trying to keep up with being a good candidate for a job after graduation.”
Although Erin Laney ’25 believes that Cornell’s competitive environment causes some students to have imposter syndrome, she feels there are positive aspects.
“This competition amongst our peers is positive to an extent. It pushes us to work harder and reach our highest potential,” Laney said.
Dealing with this constant pressure can have a drastic effect on one’s mental health. Cornell’s 2020 Mental Health Report showed that about 40 percent of students were unable to function due to stress, anxiety, or depression. Although Cornell has mental health resources, some students have their own coping mechanisms to keep themselves healthy.
“I remind myself that everyone is running their own race, and has different strengths,” Meredith said. “It is important to take care of yourself mentally and physically. You need to find a balance between social life and academics, and find time for both.”
Like Meredith, Anderson learned to find that balance, and encourages others to surround themselves with people that make them happy.
“Don’t be afraid to try new things,” Anderson said. “Find a group of people you get along with, and don’t try to fit in with a group if you’re not being your true self.”