Date of Degree

2-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Psychology

Advisor

Colette Daiute

Committee Members

Joseph Glick

Herb Saltzstein

Margaret McDermott

Anastasiya Lipnevich

Subject Categories

Developmental Psychology | Education | Higher Education | Social and Behavioral Sciences

Keywords

Stress, traditional age college freshmen, nontraditional age college freshmen, cultural tool

Abstract

This study focuses on how two groups of college freshmen, the traditional age and nontraditional age students use the word stress as a cultural tool in their college adjustment process. This topic is explored through Vygotsky’s concept of language understood as a cultural tool, enacting meaning as developed through socio-cultural relations (1978). Three research questions explore how students articulate stress in diverse ways: How do traditional and nontraditional college freshmen use the word stress as a cultural tool to mediate their experiences in the college environment: academically, socially, personally, regarding goal commitments, etc.? What are the factors that traditional and nontraditional freshmen attribute to high and low stressors? How do the two groups of college students comparatively use stress to mediate their college adjustment: academically, socially, personally, regarding goal commitments, etc.? The sample consisted of (N=100) undergraduate freshmen enrolled in a four-year private college. There were fifty traditional age freshmen ages 18-22 and fifty nontraditional age freshmen ages 23 and over. A mixed methodology approach was used including the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ) and three narratives genres (meanings of stress statements; narratives of stressful experiences, and ranking of stress terms). An independent Samples t-Test, values analysis, and plot analysis were performed to explore both groups of freshmen’s college experiences and adjustment. Results suggest that there were similarities and differences among the groups in relation to the SACQ and the three narratives genres. Findings indicated that age does not have an effect on college adjustment between the traditional age and nontraditional age freshmen. However, age does have an effect on the multiple roles and demands expressed by nontraditional age freshman students. The traditional age freshmen ranked academic as their most stressful term while the nontraditional age freshmen ranked financial as their most stressful term. In addition, the narrative statements of stressful experiences introduced how college freshmen used stress to mediate and make sense of their environment. The implication is to move away from the notion of stress associated with negative abilities and convey the importance behind each stressful experience.

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