Financial Stress in College Students

by | Dec 23, 2020

financial stress in college

Money, or lack of it, is one of the top worries for college students. While a college education paves the pathway to better a better financial future, the experience itself creates financial stress of its own. Financial stress in college students is rampant.  

A study at Ohio State University found that 70% of college students were stressed about their finances. The reported stressors included paying for their education and paying their monthly bills, which led to about one-third of students neglecting their studies in some way. A follow-up study by the Wisconsin Hope Lab reported that community college students often struggle to eat and about 13% are homeless.

Financial stress in college students makes everything harder. Stress in this area impacts all areas of a student’s wellbeing, too.

Mental health issues

Concerns over money can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Stress about where your next meal will come from, whether or not you’ll be able to stay enrolled in school, escalating debt, and whether you’ll get a job after graduation are a few of the chronic stressors. When mental health is impacted, the financial stress in college students is exacerbated as it becomes harder to perform the daily tasks required in college.  

Learning challenges

Under a constant state of stress, students are unable to focus on their studies and give attention to their learning. Stress releases cortisol in the body which initiates a fight, flight or freeze state in the brain. Under duress, the brain is unable to retain or recall memories, making classwork increasingly difficult. Financial stress in college students leads to stress about academic performance and inability to perform at a high level.

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Drop-out rates 

Students who are facing financial challenges may opt to drop-out. While this relieves the short-term pressure of tuition, housing, and daily expenses, it creates longer term financial stress in college students. When students drop out of college, they immediately lose access to many of the perks and discounts associated with enrollment, like scholarships, subsidized housing, and other daily expenses. Loan repayment begins and without the benefits of a college degree, the job market is more difficult, further complicating their financial outlook.


Eight out of ten college students work while they’re enrolled in school. The more hours they work, the greater the impact on their academic performance. Financial stress in college students has the biggest impact on those who are working 20 hours or more each week. Many of these students are forced to reduce their class load or shift to part-time enrollment, which further raises costs and financial stress.

While financial stress in college students is prevalent, good money management can help alleviate some of the stress this population faces during the university years. Spend time learning how to reduce your financial stress. Living within a budget, identifying wants from needs, working a non-stressful job, and other small shifts in your daily life are just some of the ways to feel more secure about your finances.

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