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Received 03/25/11 Revised 02/12/12 Accepted 02/19/12 DOI: 10.1002/j.2161-1882.2014.00047.x

The Effect of Social Anxiety and Self-Esteem on College Adjustment, Academics, and Retention

Alicia H. Nordstrom, Lisa M. Swenson Goguen, and Marnie Hiester

In a survey of 271 undergraduates conducted during the 2nd and 11th week of their 1st semester of col- lege, the authors found that self-esteem mediated relations between social anxiety and academic, social, and institutional adjustment. Implications for 1st-year college students with social anxiety are discussed, with an emphasis on early identification and recommendations for counselors to adapt cognitive behavior therapy interventions for use with college populations.

Keywords: social anxiety, self-esteem, college adjustment

W ith the majority of high school graduates entering college (Bureau of

Labor Statistics, 2011), there is an increased need to understand the

developmental challenges students may face during their transition

to a higher education institution. According to Tinto (1993), approximately 63% of college students will leave their first institution before receiving their degree, with approximately 29% departing after their 1st year and most leaving after their first semester. In his model, Tinto distinguished between external forces (i.e., finances, obligations) and internal causes of student departure (i.e., adjustment, academic difficulty, institutional mismatch, loneliness). Although the first-semester transition deeply challenges the developmental core of all students, those coping with internal stressors as a result of mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to adjustment problems that may compromise their longevity at the institution (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). In a survey of more than 1,033 college students, one out of seven students reported that mental health problems were interfering with their daily functioning at college, one third reported ongoing feelings of depression, and one fourth reported feelings of suicidal ideation (Laughlin & Robinson, 2004). Social anxiety disorder (SAD) exemplifies a mental health condition worthy of study in the college population because of its impact on students’ social and emotional adjustment to college. Adolescents with SAD fear that they will embarrass or humiliate themselves in a social or performance situa- tion, and contact with that situation triggers impairing levels of anxiety that significantly disrupt their functioning in daily tasks and activities. Although adolescents realize that their fear is unreasonable, they still avoid the situation,

Alicia H. Nordstrom and Marnie Hiester, Department of Psychology, Misericordia University; Lisa M. Swenson Goguen, Department of Psychology, Penn State Hazleton.This study was supported by a Research Development Grant from Penn State Hazleton and research grants from the Faculty Development Committee and Faculty Research Grant Committees at Misericordia University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Alicia H. Nordstrom, Department of Psychology, Misericordia University, 301 Lake Street, Dallas, PA 18612 (e-mail: anordstr@ misericordia.edu).

© 2014 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.

or tolerate it with severe discomfort. These symptoms must be present for at least 6 months and must not be due to the effect of a substance (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Traditional-aged college students are in a dangerous age range that places them between the typical onset and worsening of SAD symptoms. The mean age onset is 10 to 16 years, with a stability of symptoms emerging around age 19 and a solidification of symptoms emerging after age 24 (Wittchen & Fehm, 2003). SAD is also a risk factor for the development of other mental health disorders, such as depression, other anxiety disorders, and eating disorders (Izgic, Akyuz, Dogan, & Kugu, 2004; Stein et al., 2001). Prevalence rates range from 17% to 21% in child and adolescent populations (Van Amerin- gen, Mancini, & Farvolden, 2003) and 19% among undergraduate students (Beidel, Turner, Stanley, & Dancu, 1989). Stewart and Mandrusiak (2007) found that 42% of 1st-year students from a psychology course reported clinical levels of social anxiety symptoms. This statistic compares favorably with the 49% of students from a sample receiving counseling services at their university who reported experiencing the same symptoms. Our study is one of the first to examine the impact of social anxiety on college students across their first semester and explore the potential meditating role of self-esteem.

Social Anxiety and College Adjustment

For most students, satisfaction with social support significantly predicts col- lege academic, social, and personal/emotional adjustment and grade point average (GPA; Brooks & DuBois, 1995). Boulter (2002) found that positive relationships with instructors predicted positive academic adjustment. However, students with social anxiety may miss the opportunity to use the buffering effects of social support during their transitional experience. Urani, Miller, Johnson, and Petzel (2003) found that social anxiety predicted higher levels of homesickness at the start of the first semester and lower levels of social support at the end. Social anxiety also negatively affects other aspects of college life, such as academic performance and persistence. Adolescents who reported fear of com- munication with others were at a higher risk of dropping out of high school and avoiding postsecondary education, and individuals with lifetime rates of social phobia were more likely to leave school early (Van Ameringen et al., 2003). Social anxiety predicted academic problems, such as lower grades, class absences due to a lack of participation, and fear of public speaking (Strahan, 2003), as well as lower self-esteem and GPA in men (di Maria & di Nuovo, 1990). However, social anxiety did not predict GPA or retention in a study of 253 undergraduates at a large state university (Strahan, 2003). Strahan (2003) postulated that social anxiety might exert an indirect influence on academic performance and persistence through its relationship with college adjustment, a variable that was shown to predict GPA 2 years later. Self- esteem—the target of our study—represents another factor that may explain

how social anxiety could have detrimental effects on college adjustment that extend beyond social domains into academic and institutional realms.

Social Anxiety and Self-Esteem

According to Harter (1993, 1999), self-esteem reflects an evaluative form of a person’s self-representation and is highly affected by domain and develop- ment. Regarding domain, Harter (1999) departed from unidimensional con- ceptualizations of “global” self-worth as an overarching sense of self. Instead, she emphasized that individuals evaluate distinct aspects of themselves and their competencies (e.g., social, academic, athletic, physical attractiveness), thereby creating profiles that illustrate strengths and weaknesses that are dif- ferentially weighted according to the importance placed on each category by the individual. Developmentally, self-esteem typically declines during middle and junior high school, but rises during the high school years. The majority of research examining social anxiety and self-esteem has focused on school-age or early-adolescent populations. In general, support from others in the form of social approval is strongly correlated with self-worth (Harter, Stocker, & Robinson, 1996). Given that adolescents with social anxiety display hypersensitivity in their “self” processes (i.e., self-attention, self-consciousness, self-presentation, self-cognitions) and overreliance on social approval (Leary, 2001), it is not surprising that their self-worth is closely tied to peer approval and waxes and wanes based upon positive or negative peer feedback (Reijntjes et al., 2011). Research echoes these relations in undergraduates. Students high in social anxiety reported lower levels of self-esteem compared with students with low social anxiety (Stopa, Brown, Luke & Hirsch, 2010). However, the nature of the linkage between social anxiety and self-esteem remains unclear. Kocovski and Endler (2000) found that students with low self-esteem reported higher fear of negative evaluation which, in turn, pre- dicted social anxiety. Izgic et al. (2004) found the highest prevalence of social anxiety in groups of university students with low self-esteem (14.9%) and the lowest prevalence in groups with high self-esteem (6.6%). The comorbidity between social anxiety and low self-esteem necessitates a closer investigation into the directionality of their relationship as well as further study into their consequences on the college transition.

Self-Esteem and College Adjustment

Researchers have demonstrated inconsistent links between self-esteem and col- lege adjustment. Whereas some researchers found no significant relationships between self-esteem and academic success (Crocker & Park, 2004), others identified inverse relationships between self-esteem and college students’ stress and depression (Abouserie, 1994; Harter, 1999), as well as positive relationships with overall adjustment and academic performance, even after

controlling for entrance scores (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1992). The tendency of socially anxious individuals to draw upon unrealistic constructions of exter- nal feedback as their benchmark of self-worth, combined with the negative consequences of self-esteem on college adjustment, places this population at risk for adjustment problems during the college transition (Crocker, 2002).

Current Study

Our study examined how social anxiety affects the academic, social, emo- tional, and institutional adjustment to college in first-semester students and the role of self-esteem in this process. A secondary goal of our study was to explore social anxiety (measured during the 2nd week of the first semester) as a predictor of academic performance at the end of the 1st year, and retention 1 year after the first semester. A third goal was to track the stability of self-esteem and mental health symptoms over the first semester between students with high and low anxiety. The following hypotheses guided this research:

Hypothesis 1: Students with high levels of social anxiety would have higher levels of mental health symptoms and lower self-esteem at Week 2 (Time 1) and Week 11 (Time 2), and worse adjustment at Time 2, than students with low levels of social anxiety. Hypothesis 2: Students with high levels of social anxiety would show a de- crease in social self-esteem and an increase in mental health symptoms across the first semester. No predictions were made about the stability of global and academic self-esteem. Hypothesis 3: Global, academic, and social self-esteem at Time 1 would mediate the relationship between social anxiety and social, academic, personal/emotional, and institutional college adjustment. We sus- pected that these relations would be maintained at Time 2 but would explore them to examine if the strength changes over the course of the semester. Hypothesis 4: Higher social anxiety, lower self-esteem, and worse college adjustment would significantly predict lower cumulative GPA at the end of the 1st year and lower retention 1 year after the first semester.

Method

Participants and Procedure

Data were collected as part of a larger study of college adjustment at two small northeastern universities—one private and the other a branch campus of a state university. Participants were 490 students ages 18 to 56 who were recruited from introductory English and history courses. Core humanities

courses were selected for recruitment to maximize contact with first-semester students. Students completed questionnaires during the 2nd (Time 1) and 11th (Time 2) weeks of the semester and received extra credit after returning both packets. Sixty-six percent (n = 321) of students who completed surveys at Time 1 also completed surveys at Time 2. From this larger sample, students ages 18 to 19 were selected for the study to target traditional-age, first-semester college students. Women composed 64% of the sample (n = 174); men composed 36% (n = 97). The dominant racial group was European American (87%) and the mean age was 18.10 years (SD = .02). Data from 50 students were excluded because of errors in completing one of the measures or missing data, making the final sample size 271 students.

Measures

Students completed surveys on social anxiety, self-esteem, and mental health symptoms at Time 1 and Time 2, and a survey of college adjustment at Time 2. Social Anxiety Scale for Adolescents (SAS-A; LaGreca, 1999; LaGreca & Lopez, 1998). The SAS-A measures 18 symptoms of social anxiety (and four filler items) using a Likert-type scale with values ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (all the time). The measure, which has been used for community and clinical adolescent populations (respectively), yields three subscales: Fear of Negative Evaluation (α = .91 and .94), Social Avoidance and Distress–New (α = .83 and .87), and Social Avoidance and Distress–General (α = .76 and .80). Researchers have found the SAS-A to have accurate specificity equivalent to that of clinical mea- sures (Inderbitzen-Nolan, Davies, & McKeon, 2004; Olivares, Garcia-Lopez, Hidalgo, & Caballo, 2004). Clinical cutoffs indicated that scores above 50 are considered to reflect high social anxiety and scores below 36 are considered to reflect low social anxiety (LaGreca & Lopez, 1998). The three subscales were summed to form a total social anxiety score, as recommended by LaGreca (1999) when using the SAS-A to identify clinical populations. However, dichotomous scores of high and low were used for group comparison tests. Self-Perception Profile for College Students (SPPCS; Harter & Whitesell, 2003; Neemann & Harter, 1986). The SPPCS assesses domain-specific aspects of self- esteem using a Likert-type scale with values ranging from 1 (low self-esteem) to 4 (high self-esteem). Three of the 13 subscales were used for our study: Global Self-Worth (six items; α = .86–.90) measured students’ general sense of liking who they are; Scholastic Competence (four items; α = .84) measured the extent to which students felt that they were mastering their course work; and Social Acceptance (four items; α = .80) measured how satisfied students felt with their ability to make friends. For consistency and readability, global self-worth will be referred to as “global self-esteem,” scholastic competence as “academic self-esteem,” and social acceptance as “social self-esteem.” Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ; Baker & Siryk, 1999). The SACQ is a 67-item standardized measure that assesses four dimensions of college adjustment. Alphas are presented based on samples of first-semester

freshmen from comparably sized institutions for the following subscales:

Academic Adjustment (24 items; α = .83–.89), Social Adjustment (20 items; α = .83–.91), Personal/Emotional Adjustment (15 items; α = .77–.85), and Institutional Attachment (15 items; α = .88–.91). Raw scores were converted into T scores, with higher scores indicating more positive adjustment. Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI; Derogatis, 1993). The BSI is a 53-item measure that approximates clinical levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Students rated a list of symptoms on a 5-point scale ranging from 0 (not at all) to 4

(extremely). Five of the nine subscales were included in this study because of their common comorbidity with social anxiety: Somatization (seven items; α

= .80), Obsessive-Compulsive (six items; α = .83), Depression (six items; α =

.85), Anxiety (six items; α = .81), and Phobic Anxiety (five items; α = .77). Raw scores were converted to standardized T scores, with higher scores indicating greater impairment. Academic performance. Students’ academic performance was reflected by cumula- tive GPAs at the end of the spring semester of the 1st year. GPAs were collected from the registrar as continuous variables that ranged from 0 (low) to 4 (high). Retention. Student retention at the university was operationalized as students’

enrollment in the fall semester 1 year following their first semester. Commonly referred to as “fall-to-fall” retention, this was measured as a dichotomous variable with 0 = not enrolled and 1 = enrolled.

Results

First, a multivariate analysis of variance found no group differences in out- come variables by gender and residential status (i.e., living on campus or with families). To examine for differences across levels of social anxiety, we divided the sample into groups of high social anxiety (SAS-A scores > 50) and low social anxiety (SAS-A scores 36) as specified by the instrument’s author (LaGreca, 1999) based on Time 1 data. Twenty-three percent of students (n = 62) in the sample had high social anxiety and 45% had low social anxiety (n = 122).

Comparing High and Low Social Anxiety

We predicted that students with high levels of social anxiety at Time 1 would report greater levels of mental health symptoms and lower self-esteem at Time 1 and Time 2 than students with low levels of social anxiety. Independent sample t tests indicated mean differences between high and low social anxiety

groups. At both time points, students with high social anxiety had significantly lower self-esteem, higher mental health symptoms, and more problems in all college adjustment domains compared with the low social anxiety group.

A Bonferroni adjustment was applied to maintain a low error rate, and all

comparisons remained statistically significant. Exploratory analyses examined the stability of self-esteem and mental health

symptoms across the first semester. Paired-sample t tests compared mean dif- ferences within each participant on the three self-esteem and five mental health subscales between Time 1 and Time 2. After the Bonferroni adjustment, one group showed a statistically significant change over the course of the semester. Students with high social anxiety increased in social self-esteem by the end of the semester by a margin of more than one point, t(50) = 4.02, p < .001.

Predicting College Adjustment: Mediator Analyses

Self-esteem was examined as a mediator of social anxiety and college adjust- ment. Domain-specific self-esteem subscales were matched to the closest extent possible with college adjustment subscales (i.e., Social Self-Esteem was paired with Social Adjustment; Academic Self-Esteem was paired with Academic Ad- justment). The Global Self-Esteem scale was paired with Personal/Emotional Adjustment and Institutional Attachment. Variables were tested at Time 1 and Time 2 to examine for potential changes in relationships across the semester. Using the Baron and Kenny (1986) guidelines, we first examined relationships between the three factors to establish significant statistical relationships. Three linear regression analyses were conducted to derive the standardized beta coefficients of each relationship within the model (i.e., Paths A, B, and C 1 ). A final regression (C 2 ) was conducted to examine for a coefficient change between the predictor (social anxiety) and outcome (college adjustment) when self-esteem was inserted as a mediator. If the C 2 coefficient was no longer significant, support for mediation was established. Table 1 presents coefficients for each path of the mediation models. Results indicated that self-esteem significantly mediated three of the four pre- Table 1

Hierarchical regression Path Coefficients of Self-esteem as a Mediator of Social anxiety and College adjustment

Path

Outcome Variable

Mediator

a

b

C 1

C 2

z

SACQ subscale Academic Adjustment Social Adjustment Personal/Emotional Adjustment Institutional Attachment

Time 1 SPPCS subscales Academic Self-Esteem Social Self-Esteem Global Self-Esteem

–.26***

.38***

–.24***

–.12

–3.36***

–.65***

.51***

–.31***

.01

–7.08***

–.55***

.32***

–.39***

–.34*** –4.34***

Global Self-Esteem

–.55***

.27***

–.18**

–.04

–3.80***

SACQ subscale Academic Adjustment Social Adjustment Personal/Emotional Adjustment Institutional Attachment

Time 2

SPPCS subscales Academic Self-Esteem Social Self-Esteem Global Self-Esteem

 

–.22**

.62***

–.24***

–.10

–3.44***

–.57***

.31***

–.31***

–.02

–4.48***

–.55***

.48***

–.39***

–.22**

–6.48***

Global Self-Esteem

–.55***

.37***

–.18***

.01

–5.30***

Note. SACQ = Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire; SPPCS = Self-Perception Profile for College Students; z = Sobel test. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

dicted relationships. Academic self-esteem mediated social anxiety and academic college adjustment. Social self-esteem mediated social anxiety and social college adjustment. Global self-esteem mediated social anxiety and institutional college adjustment. However, global self-worth did not significantly mediate social anxiety and personal/emotional adjustment. Sobel tests were also conducted to verify the mediation models with more conservative criteria (Kenny, 2011; Sobel, 1982). All Sobel tests were significant, including the personal/emotional adjustment outcomes that were not significant with the Baron and Kenny (1986) approach.

Predicting Academic Performance and Retention

Linear and logistic regression analyses were conducted separately to predict cumulative spring GPA (at the end of the 1st year) and fall retention (1 year later) controlling for SAT scores (see Table 2). SAT scores were entered as control variables to ensure that relationships between social anxiety and out- come variables were not the result of academic ability. Each analysis was set up hierarchically, with four steps: (a) SAT math and SAT verbal scores (control variables), (b) social anxiety, (c) self-esteem (global, academic, social), and (d) college adjustment (academic, social, personal/emotional, institutional). The full model significantly predicted cumulative GPA at the end of the 1st year, F(10, 143) = 10.55, p < .001, and explained 43% of total variance in GPA. Self-esteem and college adjustment explained 5% and 8% of the unique variance in GPA, respectively. After we controlled for SAT scores, social anxi-

Table 2

Hierarchical Multiple regression Predicting Cumulative Spring Grade Point average and Fall retention From Social anxiety, Self-esteem, and College adjustment Subscales

Grade Point average (N = 153)

Fall retention (N = 155)

Predictor

b

DR 2

Wald c 2

block

DR 2

Step 1 Control variables a Step 2 Social anxiety Step 3 Global self-esteem Academic self-esteem Social self-esteem Step 4 Academic adjustment Social adjustment Personal/emotional adjustment Institutional adjustment

 

.27***

10.66**

.20**

.02

1.20

.02

.30**

1.55

 

.05*

3.46

.06

.05

0.25

.11

0.60

–.02

0.09

 

.09**

17.58**

.29***

.29**

0.08

.11

0.30

–.01

3.94*

.01

1.09

Total R 2

.43**

32.90***

.57***

Note. Wald = Wald statistic. a SAT math and verbal scores were entered as covariates. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***p < .001.

ety and academic adjustment contributed unique variance in explaining GPA. Higher social anxiety and better academic adjustment predicted a higher GPA. Logistic regression analyses predicting retention were conducted with a similar hierarchical procedure. Logistic regression is the recommended method for predicting a dichotomous outcome category (i.e., retained or not retained) from a set of variables (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996). The blocks of social anxi- ety and self-esteem variables did not contribute unique variance in predicting retention (see Table 2); however, the full model significantly predicted fall retention 1 year later and explained 57% of the total variance. The block of adjustment variables explained 29% of the variance in retention. Within the full model, personal/emotional adjustment contributed unique variance in predicting retention.

Discussion

Our study examined the impact of social anxiety on students’ self-esteem, mental health, and adjustment during the first-semester transition to college; cumulative GPA at the end of the 1st year; and retention 1 year later. First, we predicted that students with high social anxiety would report more mental health symptoms and lower self-esteem during the 2nd and 11th weeks of the semester, and worse college adjustment at the end of the semester, than students with low social anxiety. Results supported these predictions. At both time points during the semester, students with high social anxiety reported lower global, academic, and social self-esteem and greater levels of somatiza- tion, obsessive-compulsive, depressive, anxiety, and phobia symptoms than students with low levels of social anxiety. Students with high social anxiety also reported more problems with academic, social, personal/emotional, and institutional adjustment to college by the end of their first semester than stu- dents with low social anxiety. Consistent with epidemiological data (Wittchen & Fehm, 2003), incoming freshmen with high social anxiety struggled with comorbid symptoms of depression, anxiety, and physical symptoms upon ar- rival, and these effects persisted throughout the first semester. We compared the short-term stability of self-esteem and mental health symptoms across the first semester between students high and low in social anxiety. Contrary to predictions, students high in social anxiety significantly increased in social self-esteem by the end of their first semester. This pattern suggests that students with social anxiety may experience a sense of increased mastery as they negotiate the social challenges of college. What is surprising is that students with high social anxiety were not more adversely affected by the increased stress of college and instead showed positive changes, such as increased social self-esteem. Cognitive behavior models (Beck, Emery, & Greenberg, 2005) suggest that repeated exposure to the feared stimulus of social evaluation without avoidance establishes that fear is unnecessary and irrational, thereby decreasing anxiety. The college environment provides re- peated exposures that invariably force students to be present in social situations.

Future research is needed to monitor this “college as buffer” hypothesis to examine whether students with high social anxiety would continue to improve in their self-esteem and symptomatology. Despite this promising idea, students in the high social anxiety group trailed their low social anxiety counterparts in social self-esteem by about four points, and their mental health problem scores stood about 10 points higher by com- parison. Students high in social anxiety reported deficiencies in their social competency and experienced greater anxiety, depression, and somatization compared with their peers. This finding further reinforces the importance of understanding the impact of social anxiety during the first semester for the purposes of early intervention. Another focus of our study was exploring how social anxiety related to col- lege adjustment. We hypothesized that domain-specific self-esteem would mediate this relationship. Academic self-esteem mediated the relationship between social anxiety and academic adjustment; social self-esteem mediated social anxiety and social adjustment; and global self-esteem mediated social anxiety and institutional adjustment. Sobel tests supported these models and indicated that global self-esteem mediated the relationship between social anxiety and personal/emotional adjustment. These relationships suggest that social anxiety chisels away at multiple aspects of self-esteem, which, in turn, compromises students’ adjustment across academic, social, and institutional domains. The diffuse impact of social anxiety beyond just the social realm also places students at risk for problems with their institutional attachment, which has implications for their completion of college. Our data found two nuances to this picture regarding GPA and retention. First, we hypothesized that social anxiety, self-esteem, and college adjustment would predict a lower cumulative GPA at the end of the 1st year and lower retention 1 year later. These factors explained 43% of the total variance in GPA, and higher levels of social anxiety and more positive academic adjustment made unique individual contributions in predicting higher GPA after controlling for SAT scores. The idea that social anxiety would enhance academic performance is noteworthy, because previous findings have found negative or no correla- tions between social anxiety and GPA (di Maria & di Nuovo, 1990; Strahan, 2003). Links between social anxiety and perfectionism have been established by previous studies (Juster et al., 1996). These data support the notion that perfectionism, which is positively correlated with social anxiety (Juster et al., 1996), might be driving students with social anxiety to academically succeed because of a fear of failure or doubting their abilities. Regarding retention, social anxiety, self-esteem, and college adjustment explained 57% of the variance after controlling for SAT scores. It would be difficult for students to feel that they are a valued and integral part of the institution if they are unable to fully engage within the social, academic, and recreational aspects of the college environment. College adjustment explained one third of the variance in retention in our study, and personal/emotional adjustment made a unique contribution. Without knowledge of students’

pre-existing symptomatology, it is difficult to conclude whether the onset of college is worsening symptoms, or whether students are showing a continua- tion of their a priori emotional functioning. Students may drop out because of reasons independent from their social anxiety (e.g., health or family problems).

Implications

Our results indicate that students entering college with social anxiety are at significant risk for social and emotional problems during their first semester and for institutional dropout by their 2nd year. Given that almost one quarter of the current sample of college freshmen had clinically significant levels of social anxiety, there is reason for college employees to be concerned about the college transition of this population. The cognitive distortions, biased interpretations of themselves and others, and social withdrawal that represent the root of social anxiety (Clark, 2001) appear to be setting these students up for future perceived social and academic failures that reinforce feelings of incompetence and estrangement. Anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety, can be gateways to depression and other comorbid conditions (Chartier, Walker, & Stein, 2003), which reinforce the need for early intervention. Further mag- nifying this problem is student reticence to seek help from their institution’s professionals, as evidenced by data indicating that the majority of students (62%) would first seek help from a friend rather than a parent (46%) or the counseling center (30%; Laughlin & Robinson, 2004). The most proximal approach to desist the trajectory of adjustment problems for students with social anxiety would be to target the social anxiety itself directly upon arrival in college. A strong body of research supports cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) approaches (i.e., cognitive restructuring, exposure, and systematic desensitization) as an empirically supported treatment (EST) for adults (see Ponniah & Hollon, 2008) and children and adolescents (Kashdan & Herbert, 2001; Kendall, Aschenbrand, & Hudson, 2003) with SAD. CBT interventions can also be delivered in group formats and address other comorbid conditions (Barlow, 1994). However, researchers have argued that ESTs are not necessarily generalizable to college populations because of financial and logistical challenges with research methodology, assessment, and ethics boards (Baez, 2005; Resnick, 2005). In addition, college students have unique developmental challenges that are distinct from those of younger adolescents and older adults (Arnett, 1994), which may affect the efficacy of treatment. For example, child-focused CBT approaches include components of social skills training that have not received a consensus of support for adults (Ponniah & Hollon, 2008). Baez (2005) suggested that researchers develop controlled trials to identify how ESTs for anxiety generalize to college students. Empirically supported CBT protocols may require adaptation to fit within the number of allotted counseling sessions, the time frame of the semester, and the developmental needs of freshmen, who are faced with immediate social pressures from

their 1st day on campus. Students who are enduring social exposures on a daily basis may require a more frequent and intense intervention delivery and dosage to cope effectively with the onslaught of new social demands in and outside of the classroom. Despite these challenges, college counselors have the benefit of built-in peer groups, which are not readily available in outpatient settings. Counselors can supplement individual sessions with group therapy approaches with the help of peer confederates (with or with- out social anxiety), who can facilitate exposures that simulate classroom or other social situations. A second, more distal approach to intervention would be to target the mediational factor of self-esteem. Data from our study identified that self- esteem was an explanatory mechanism in the influence of social anxiety on college adjustment. Given that social anxiety may be inhibiting the normal increase in self-esteem typically seen in late adolescence (Harter, 1999), self- esteem appears to be a worthy target of treatment (Shirk & Harter, 1996). Proponents of this perspective advocate the use of humanistic principles as strengths-based approaches to bolstering self-esteem (Mruk, 2006). CBT ap- proaches to enhancing self-esteem focus on reducing self-criticism, increasing positive reinforcement and assertiveness, restructuring cognitive distortions, and identifying core beliefs (McKay & Fanning, 2000). Areas for future research involve controlled trials of self-esteem interventions and examining combined self-esteem-enhancing and social-anxiety-reducing strategies in college populations. Regardless of the treatment approach, college counselors would need a standardized process to identify students with social anxiety in order to in- tervene within the first semester. Using a 22-item screener with approximate clinical cutoffs, such as the SAS-A (LaGreca, 1999), would allow counselors to gather information quickly and efficiently (see Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2004, for examples of innovative college screening programs). The screening procedure could be determined by the best way to access 1st-year students within the institution. One example of a common access point is 1st-year courses, such as First Year Experience or First Year Seminar, which are implemented by approximately 85% of institutions (Keup & Padgett, 2010). Research shows that 57% of institutions that offer 1st-year courses designate special sections for certain populations, such as academically underprepared or honors students (National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition [NRC], 2009). Institutions could offer sections for students with social anxiety (with or without the inclusion of nonanxious peers) so that the needs of these students could be addressed within a con- text focused solely on transitional challenges and with the help of a support team of staff, faculty, and/or peer advocates. Moreover, research shows that 1st-year students who build relationships with peer leaders have increased persistence, satisfaction, and feelings of belonging (NRC, 2009). Linking students with peer leaders could also supplement resources for freshmen whose social interactions and support are compromised by their social anxiety.

Limitations and Future Directions

There are several methodological, statistical, and theoretical limitations of our study worthy of mention. First, the longitudinal measurement design used in our study could affect its internal validity. Factors such as history and maturation may have occurred between Time 1 and Time 2, the end of the spring semester (for GPA measurement), and the start of the 2nd year (for retention), which could potentially affect student change over time. Methodological limitations, such as construct overlap and the nonexperimental design, may also constrain the scope of study validity. In addition, the study sample did not allow for more in-depth comparisons of demographic factors, such as gender. Social anxiety is typically more prevalent in women than in men (Wittchen & Fehm, 2003), and self-esteem also manifests differences by gender (Harter, 1999; Mruk, 2006). Examining how social anxiety, self-esteem, and adjustment might relate differ- ently across genders marks a topic for future study. Our sample represents students attending small (less than 2,000 students) universities with a focus on student attention and retention. It is possible that the students attending these institutions self-selected smaller institutions because of a preference for less social involvement, more personalized atten- tion, and smaller class sizes to fit their level of comfort. Ironically, students with social anxiety may be more visible at smaller institutions compared to larger universities, even though they may perceive that they are socially “safer.” Additionally, our sample of students attended brick-and-mortar universities as opposed to online institutions where classes are conducted through the Internet or using hybrid approaches. Students with extremely impairing social anxiety might opt for an online college experience that relegates their social interaction to a computer interface, which would redefine the meaning of a college transition as it was investigated in our study. Research comparing prevalence rates of social anxiety and their impact across institutions with differing characteristics (e.g., size, location, Internet vs. brick-and-mortar) could shed light on this question. The stability of self-esteem evaluated here reflects context-based, short-term fluctuations over an 8-week period and cannot be generalized beyond the parameters in our study. An understanding of how domain-specific aspects of self-esteem change over the course of the college years is warranted to ap- preciate the developmental course of emerging adulthood within the college context. For example, Shapka and Keating (2005) found that, despite a rise in self-esteem over the high school years, scholastic competence declined in high school seniors. Of particular interest as a follow-up to our study is the question of whether social self-esteem will continue to rise for students high in social anxiety over the course of their college years. The results of our study suggest that social anxiety holistically contaminates multiple aspects of college life, making all aspects of adjustment more difficult for students. Future research should continue to define the developmental course of how social anxiety affects college adjustment, academic performance,

and retention. Examining the role of etiological factors such as temperament, parent and family characteristics, personality, and cognitive and emotional characteristics (Kashdan & Herbert, 2001) would provide interventionists with a clearer road map toward developing preventive interventions to assist this at-risk college population.

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