As college decision deadlines approach, thousands of students across the U.S. are making their final choices about where they want to study. Students often consider factors like price, size and professional outcomes, but according to a recent paper published in sociology journal Youth and Society, students also need to consider if their future school could make them depressed.
The study, conducted by assistant professor Noli Brazil from the University of California Davis and assistant professor Matthew Andersson from Baylor University, discovered that where students choose to pursue their degree can have a significant impact on their mental health.
Brazil and Anderson analyzed data from 1,453 students before and after they started college. Their research found that about 50 percent of students chose to attend a college of "lesser" academic esteem relative to one's high school — a phenomenon known as "undermatching." On average, these students who undermatched presented a 27 percent increase in symptoms of depression and had lower self-esteem.
Their research shows that challenging yourself and surrounding yourself with peers who push you to do better is actually good for your mental health.
"Our findings suggest that when it comes to choosing a college, it's important to think about much more than whether the college is close to home or how much it costs to attend," write the researchers. "If the overall academic ability of the student body is not taken into consideration, students may end up going to a college where they are more likely to end up feeling down."
The researchers controlled for factors such as race, age and gender and found that some students are more likely to undermatch in the first place.
"This greater awareness is especially important for low-income students and traditionally underrepresented groups, who are more susceptible to college undermatching," they write.
Though Brazil and Anderson's research may give students one more reason to worry during their decision-making process, Adrian Ridner, CEO and co-founder of online education company Study.com, says that students need to take a deep breath during this time of year.
"Choosing where to go to college seems like a huge decision, and it is, but the really huge decision is taking the first step and going to college and earning that bachelor's degree," he says. "That's the piece that's going to change your life."
Indeed, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce estimates that bachelor's degree holders earn 84 percent more than those with just a high school diploma. On average, a bachelor's degree is worth $2.8 million over a lifetime.
Choosing where to go is important, but simply choosing to go is the most important.
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