Sources of Stress for Students in High School College Preparatory and General Education Programs: Group Differences and Associations with Adjustment

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2009


stress, high school students, college preparatory programs, education programs, psychological adjustment


Navigating puberty while developing independent living skills may render adolescents particularly vulnerable to stress, which may ultimately contribute to mental health problems (Compas, Orosan, & Grant, 1993; Elgar, Arlett, & Groves, 2003). The academic transition to high school presents additional challenges as youth are required to interact with a new and larger peer group and manage greater academic expectations. For students enrolled in academically rigorous college preparatory programs, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, the amount of stress perceived may be greater than typical (Suldo, Shaunessy, & Hardesty, 2008). This study investigated the environmental stressors and psychological adjustment of 162 students participating in the IB program and a comparison sample of 157 students in general education. Factor analysis indicated students experience 7 primary categories of stressors, which were examined in relation to students' adjustment specific to academic and psychological functioning. The primary source of stress experienced by IB students was related to academic requirements. In contrast, students in the general education program indicated higher levels of stressors associated with parent-child relations, academic struggles, conflict within family, and peer relations, as well as role transitions and societal problems. Comparisons of correlations between categories of stressors and students' adjustment by curriculum group reveal that students in the IB program reported more symptoms of psychopathology and reduced academic functioning as they experienced higher levels of stress, particularly stressors associated with academic requirements, transitions and societal problems, academic struggles, and extra- curricular activities. Applied implications stem from findings suggesting that students in college preparatory programs are more likely to (a) experience elevated stress related to academic demands as opposed to more typical adolescent concerns, and (b) manifest worse outcomes in the face of stress.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Adolescence, v. 44, issue 176, p. 925-948