Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Study shows 1st-year students have high ambitions


A recent survey administered by the Higher Education Research Institute found that this year’s first-year students have greater ambitions and academic ability than years before. The survey revealed that 71.2 percent of first-years said they have “above average” academic abilities. In addition, 75.8 percent of first-years said they have an “above average” drive to achieve. 

First-year student Chris Baza has met many hardworking peers.

“In my classes, I’ve seen some very smart kids. Some of my peers are very dedicated to schoolwork. Most students that I’ve met are hardworking, but the work doesn’t come easy to everyone,” said Baza.

Max Curran, a peer mentor for first-year students, thinks that first-year students have greater ambitions when it comes to participation in on-campus activities. He said first-years “noticeably participate in more opportunities such as clubs, campus jobs and internships much earlier than I feel myself or my peers did when we were their age.” However, he does not see a rise in long-term ambitions. “Most first-year students that I’ve spoken with do not have a clear idea of what they’d like to do after graduation or even what they’d like to study here at UMass.”

Sara Weaver, another peer mentor for first-year students, says she hasn’t noticed such ambitions. “I think that, overall, this year’s first-year students have lower ambitions for success. For many students, attending college was never an option; it was just the next step after high school,” said Weaver.

 “Because of this attitude and the media’s portrayal of college I think the social aspect of college is more of a priority for most students.”

First-year students may be right to classify themselves as having greater academic abilities. At the University of Massachusetts, the class of 2014 came in with a higher high school GPA and SAT scores than any class before them. Anita Ganesan, an RA in a first-year dorm, noticed that “the residents on my floor have taken advantage of completing their college credits during high school so that they can graduate faster.”

The survey also found that this year’s first-year students tend to have lower emotional health than previous classes. Specifically, 3.4 percent less students in 2010 reported good emotional health than in 2009, a hefty decline.

During her three years as a peer mentor, Weaver has interacted with three different classes of first-year students. This year specifically she has “noticed lower levels of emotional health among first-year students.” Weaver thinks this is because “the stress of college continues to grow each year and affect more and more students.”

Curran noticed a lower level of motivation among first-year students, which is a possible consequence of low emotional health.

“They’re typically easily frustrated when assignments aren’t simple or easily completed and tend not to want to put in extra effort to understand them fully or think critically,” he said.

The state of the economy has also affected the mindset of the first-year class. The survey found that a comparatively high percent of students are using loans to pay for college and more students are using scholarship and grant money as well. At UMass, Financial Aid Services is active in helping approximately 18,000 students receive some form of financial aid.

In addition, first-year students were more likely to take costs into account when choosing a college, with 62.1 percent saying that the economy greatly impacted their college decision.

This was the case for first-year student Sam Stepanian.

 “I got the John and Abigail Adams scholarship, so that was a factor in my decision. Since this was the only state school to accept both the scholarship and had astronomy as a major, I decided to go,” he said.

Stepanian is not alone. UMass experienced a record amount of applications in the past year, which is not surprising considering the low cost for Massachusetts residents. The school is ranked 99 on the U.S. News and World Report’s 2011 “Best National Universities” list, giving students a good education at a comparably low price.

Kara Clifford can be reached at [email protected]

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