Just How Badly Has COVID-19 Affected College Students?

Image courtesy of Nithyashri Baskaran

Just about every college student can relate to memes and TikToks ranting about online school, what with the huge workload, lack of social interaction, and accompanying Zoom fatigue. But amidst increased pressures and challenges to academic success, few students have had time to pinpoint just how badly the pandemic has affected them mentally. Now, a study published in PLOS provides some answers.

During the first lockdown, an online questionnaire was administered to students at seven different universities nationwide to capture the pandemic’s toll. Results showed that among college students, certain risk factors were associated with increased psychological impact: being a woman, being eighteen-to-twenty-four years old, possessing below-average general health, experiencing prolonged screen time, and knowing someone infected with COVID-19. In contrast, the data suggested that those who were of White or Asian ethnicity, had higher income, or spent large amounts of time outside were less susceptible. This allows college students to better understand how vulnerable they are to the pandemic’s impact in relation to their peers, and to what extent they need to prioritize their mental stability over academic life.

The study ultimately proposes ways for universities to reach out to the large percentage of the student body with increased mental health concerns by maintaining healthy mindsets, supporting safe social interactions, and providing more personalized approaches to learning. By supporting the mental health and educational success of students—especially those who are more vulnerable—universities can circumvent possible long-term consequences of college students sacrificing their health and education during these troubling times. 


Browning, M. H. E. M., Larson, L. R., Sharaievska, I., Rigolon, A., McAnirlin, O., Mullenbach, L., Cloutier, S., Vu, T. M., Thomsen, J., Reigner, N., Metcalf, E. C., D’Antonio, A., Helbich, M., Bratman, G. N., & Alvarez, H. O. (2021). Psychological impacts from COVID-19 among university students: Risk factors across seven states in the United States. PLOS ONE, 16(1). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0245327