Predictors of Psychological Distress among U.S. College Students

Project Abstract


COVID-19 has drastically affected the mental health and academic stress levels of college students. Recent research reveals that COVID-19 has significantly increased psychological distress and has led to higher academic stress levels reported among US college students (Claubaugh et al., 2020). The current study aimed to examine the relationship between four predictors (i.e., fear of COVID-19, loneliness, financial distress, and employment status) of psychological distress among US students during the pandemic. Secondly, the differences between academic stress levels and grades reported before and during COVID-19 were also investigated to understand if these factors contributed to students’ psychological distress.


Data was collected from a sample of 133 students from a Midwestern university. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 55 (M = 19.56, SD = 3.49), were mostly female (78.2%) and Caucasian (82%), the majority being freshmen (56.4%). Respondents took a survey that assessed fear of COVID-19, financial distress, loneliness, and psychological distress. All measures were adapted to focus on experiences during the pandemic. Internal consistency was acceptable (α = .92 to .97). Participants also indicated what their levels of academic stress and highest and lowest grades were before and during the pandemic.


Regression analyses indicated that there was a significant positive association between fear of COVID-19 and psychological distress (β = .24, p = .005), as well as loneliness (β = .59, p < .001) and financial distress (β = .33, p = .001). There was no relationship between employment status and psychological distress. A dependent t-test indicated that higher academic stress levels were reported during COVID-19 compared to before the pandemic (t(131) = -9.88, p < .001, 95% CI[-1.18, -.79], d = 1.15). There were also significant differences between highest grades (t(129) = 3.08, p < .001, 95% CI[.04, .18], d = .40) and lowest grades (t(129) = 4.78, p < .001, 95% CI[.28, .69], d = 1.16) reported before and during COVID-19.


This study examined the relationship between predictors of psychological distress among college students. Participants who reported higher psychological distress were more likely to have experienced higher fear of COVID-19, more loneliness, and higher financial distress. Students also reported significantly higher levels of academic stress as well as lower grades during COVID-19. These results empirically show how the pandemic impacted students’ grades. It also highlights the need for continued support for students’ mental health needs and academic challenges amidst the ongoing pandemic.


Conference name (full, no abbreviations): Midwestern Psychological Association

Dates: April 21-23, 2022

Sponsoring body: APA Digital Learning, University of Wisconsin Green Bay, North Park University, and Palo Alto University

Conference website: MPA (

Funding Type

Travel Grant

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts


General Experimental Psychology


Master's Degree




Ms. Esther Malm, PhD.

Academic College

College of Humanities and Fine Arts

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