College Freshmen: 3 Smart Ways to Reduce Stress and Cut Costs

Last Updated Jan 28, 2011 6:06 PM EST

A growing number of college freshmen are down in the dumps, finds a new survey, "The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010." The New York Times reported on the results this week, revealing that more students rated themselves as "below average" in emotional health. Those who said their emotional health was "above average" fell to 52%, down from 64% in fifteen years ago.

Analysts partially blame the current economy. Young adults are surrounded by financial stress, worried about their job prospects and financing a college education, and maybe witnessing their parents struggle financially along the way. The study may shed new light on why college students aren't learning much in school. Could it be that some are just too distracted by life to focus on class?

This worries me both professionally and personally, as an older sister with a 20-year-old brother in college. Here are a few tips that could reduce stress and save money for those struggling in school.

Rethink Your School
It's OK to transfer if you're unhappy. Students often make the wrong choice for college, and if your school is proving to be too costly, transferring to a lower-cost university could be a smart solution. The National Association for College Admission Counseling actually finds that one third of college students switch schools. My brother, in fact, transferred schools in 2009 during his freshman year. My mother sensed he was getting a bit depressed at University of California at Irvine, and reassured him that if he was unhappy, he was free to make a switch. UC Irvine is a commuter school, but my brother, who moved down there from northern California, was a full-time dorm resident. He joked that the weekends on campus were so dead that he looked forward to Mondays, when students would return.

Encouraged by our mother, he transferred to the University of Arizona in Tucson the following semester. It wound up being an even financial exchange: Out-of-state tuition at U of A is actually comparable to (maybe even a little cheaper than) in-state tuition at UC Irvine, since UC schools raised tuition by 30% last year.

Take a Break
Taking a leave of absence or going part-time may be helpful for students feeling overwhelmed by the college experience. Keep in mind that few full-time students actually graduate in four years, anyway; most take five or six years to finish (if they finish at all). Slowing down your education could ease the stress and help you better afford tuition - especially if you use the extra time raising funds by getting a part-time job or applying for scholarships.

Take Fewer Credits
That's right: Take your time. Looking back at the first semester of my sophomore year in college, I was clearly depressed. I was taking 24 credits - the equivalent of eight classes - while most other students were taking five.

During winter break my parents noticed I was being extremely negative. "I hate Penn State," I protested. No, they told me. You don't hate school: You hate your schedule. The following semester I took the normal 15 credits and was noticeably happier. Added bonus: If you go to a school where you pay per credit, this could also lower your semester's tuition.

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    Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at and on Twitter at @farnoosh.