Risk and Protective Factors Explaining First Year College Adjustment

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Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
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college adjustment
first-year college students
college mental health
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Social Work
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Kahn, Marissa

Objective This study tested the specific hypothesis that risk factors negatively impact first-year students’ college adjustment and protective factors positively impact first-year students’ college adjustment when controlling for pertinent socio-demographic and psychosocial factors. Methods A correlation design was utilized. An online survey was administered to first-year college students at a large semi-rural state university. In total, 348 students completed the survey about their experience adjusting to college. A shortened version of the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire measured the dependent variable. Socio-demographic and psychosocial scales and items measured independent and control variables. Three regression models were employed: 1. risk factors, 2. risk and protective factors, and 3. risk, protective, and control factors. Results Risk factors significantly associated with college adjustment included psychiatric medication, fearful-avoidant attachment, and anxious-preoccupied attachment. Protective factors that significantly improved first year college adjustment were resilience, academic self-efficacy, and optimism. Disability was the only control factor that influenced college adjustment. The final model accounted for 54% of the variance. Notably, risk factors lost their significance after adjusting for protective factors. Conclusions This study is novel to this research domain. It is the first to frame contributing factors to first year college adjustment in terms of risk and protective factors and to focus only on first-year students. This study demonstrates that strengths can compensate for vulnerabilities. A clinical implication of these findings is that mental health professionals need to assess and enhance protective factors in an effort to improve first year college adjustment, which is likely to impact graduation rates.

Phyllis Solomon, PhD
Daniel Lapsley, PhD
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