Are students more stressed these days?

Enrolled Student Survey sheds light on the state of the student body

The 2011 Enrolled Student Survey, which was conducted this past spring, polled undergraduates about extracurricular and academic activities, and underscored an apparent increase in student stress. About 65 percent of the undergraduate body responded to the online questionnaire, which is delivered every four years.

According to the survey, MIT students are generally happy and taking advantage of campus opportunities, despite high levels of stress. The online survey is taken every four years during the spring, and all undergraduates are invited to participate. In addition to academics and extracurriculars, it has questions regarding demographic info, overall well-being, and how their skills and abilities have changed since entering MIT.

Ninety-four percent of surveyed students agreed that they would choose to go to MIT if they had the chance to do it all over again. Eighty percent of all undergraduates also felt confident in their ability to succeed at MIT. Seniors in particular were very confident, showing that perhaps students gain confidence as they progress through MIT. Ninety-six percent of students rated their experience at MIT as good or excellent.

At the same time, however, the percentage of students who report feeling overwhelmed “very often” has risen from 18 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2011. Alan E. Siegel, director of Mental Health Services, said that the amount of students that come to “walk-in hours” (held weekdays 2–4 p.m.) “increased by more than 60 percent [this year].”

“The average number of students seen each day doubled from past years … my personal experience and that of my colleagues on staff is that MIT students do feel more stress and distress than in previous years,” Siegel said.

The reason behind the increase in stress is hard to pinpoint. MIT students evaluated several sources of stress, and reported managing course workload as the most stressful, followed by concerns about future plans, balancing multiple commitments, difficulty of curriculum, personal/relationship problems, and financial worries, in that order.

With so many commitments and a difficult course load contributing to student stress, time management is always a challenge for MIT students. The survey also polled students on what they do in their time outside the classroom and how they balance their schedules.

Student activity outside of class

The average MIT student spends, weekly; 6–10 hours working, 21–25 hours studying or doing homework, and 0–5 hours exercising or playing sports. Fourteen percent of students reported zero hours of physical activity a week. Half of MIT students have done community service in their free time as well.

Seventy-four percent of seniors surveyed had done research with a professor, while the same amount of freshmen plan to do so. While most students fulfill their plans of doing research, only about half of those who plan to study abroad actually end up doing so. Fifty-two percent of freshmen say they plan to study abroad, but only 24 percent of seniors reported that they had. Dr. J. Chapell H. Lawson, Director of MISTI, attributes this disparity to complicated schedules. He advises students to plan ahead if they’re serious about studying abroad. “The earlier students start thinking about their schedules, the more opportunities they will have open to them,” Lawson said.

Besides being able to do research or study abroad, MIT students seem to benefit from their education here. Ninety-eight percent of seniors agreed that MIT had increased their knowledge of a specific field by at least some amount, and 95 percent felt that their experience here had increased their knowledge and career-related skills.

The survey also showed that students develop better relationships with faculty as the years go by, and their GPAs generally increase as well. Seniors reported the most A’s out of all the classes, and freshmen the most C’s. More seniors also felt they knew more faculty well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation, demonstrating that students get to know professors better over the years.

Although the Student Survey revealed MIT can be stressful, the results also show students gain confidence and experience during their time here, and participate in a variety of activities outside the classroom.

The full results of the survey are available online at