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Running head: COLLEGE STUDENT MOTHER

Estudyanteng Ina: A Phenomenological Study on the Perceived Academic Stressors and Coping
Strategies of College Student Mothers
Pia Roelen C. Pahati
Bulacan State University

COLLEGE STUDENT MOTHERS

Estudyanteng Ina: A Phenomenological Study on the Perceived Academic Stressors and Coping
Strategies of College Student Mothers
Stress has been a part of our daily lives. Everyone experiences that kind of phenomenon,
yet not everyone can cope positively with it. Other individuals are able to cope with small
exposures to stress. Some even work more productively when under pressure. However, stress
can impose negative effects on a person especially when it becomes overwhelming and the
person begins to experience its adverse effects (Rizzolo, Zipp, Seton & Simpkins, 2009).
In the context of school or educational setting, academic stress is one of the inevitable
phenomenon that equally affect all college students (Rizzolo et al., 2009), as it has been found
that college is a very stressful period for many of the students as they go through a lot of changes
educationally and socially (Misra & Castillo, 2004). However, it is important for us to
consider that not all the stress that a student experiences during college is negative, for stress also
pushes individuals to work even harder and to reach their goals even under pressure (Rizzolo et
al., 2009; Robotham, 2008). Even if some researchers claimed that the environment in academies
are considered to be stressful which often causes negative outcomes to students performance
(Ahmed, Riaz & Ramza, 2013), it has also been noted that stress is a necessary part of what it
means to be in a university, and that these universities are just giving their students the chance to
experience positive stress as well as the unintentional giving of negative stress, so that they will
be equipped in their future careers (Brown & Ralph, 1999).
Academic stress arises when a student perceives that academic related demands exceed
the available resources that he or she has (Khan, Altaf & Kausar, 2013), especially when it comes
to time (Erkutlu & Chafra, 2006). According to Misra and McKean (2000), students report that

COLLEGE STUDENT MOTHERS

they are experiencing academic stress every semester at a very predictable rate especially when
there is an academic overload that needs to be met in a small amount of time. The common
academic stressors or the causes of academic stress, according to studies are excessive
assignments, unhealthy competition among their classmates, fear of failure, lack of pocket
money (Fairbrother & Warn, 2003), insufficient resources to perform academic work and poor
interpersonal relationships with classmates or with their lecturers (Khan et al., 2013). This
phenomenon that is present in academic institutions which is experienced by college students can
either bring positive or negative effects to them which depend on the track of the stress. When
stress leads to positive track it enhances performancegives confidence and most excellent
ending results. But when stress moves in negative direction, students practice physical and
psychological destruction (Ahmed, Riaz, & Ramzan, 2013).
College student mother is also included in the sphere of the term college students, yet
their perspectives and participation in the past researches are rarely seen. College student
mothers who are studying alongside with rearing their child experiences great amount of
challenge compared to the regular college students who have no child to tend to (Brown, Adansi,
& Amankwaa, 2007). Student mothers have multiple responsibilities like taking care of the child,
studying, and sometimes being a provider. Also, time constraints in school and challenges of
being financially stable are one of their usual challenges (Arguelles, 2008). However, there has
been a very limited attention in the psychological and educational literature when it comes to the
experiences of college student mothers who are raising a child while pursuing higher education
(Ricco, Sabet, & Cloughm, 2009).
With that, this study will focus on the perceived academic stressors of college student
mothers and their main coping strategies which will be revealed and indicated through their

COLLEGE STUDENT MOTHERS

subjective views about the phenomenon itself and how they deal with it. These subjective
interpretations that will be gathered from the first-hand responses of the participants may provide
a greater insight into the range of college students mothers' perceptions regarding the demands
and stressors existing within higher education institutions. This should also enhance our
understanding of how student mothers in tertiary education experience academic stress and how
they deal with it. This is also important as the readers will know the meaning of academic stress
through the perspective of college student mothers.
Academic Stress Experienced by College Students
Academic stress is present in educational environments (Pozos-Radillo, PreciadoSerrano, Acosta-Fernandez, Aguilera-Velasco & Delgado-Garcia, 2014), which is commonly
incorporated with college students, as these students were found to experience higher level of
academic stress based on the past researches that has been done. However, it has also been
claimed that even secondary students are also experiencing this kind of phenomenon (Conner,
Pope, & Galloway, 2010; Khiat, 2013). It was noted that stress among college students are rooted
from adjustment to college as it is a well-recognized stressful experience, like facing novel ideas
that challenge previous views, others possibly move away from home (Lumley & Provenzano,
2003), workloads, grade competition, lack of time to complete tasks and not having understood
the materials (Pozos-Radillo, 2014), antagonism with other students, disappointment, failures
and poor relationships with other students or lecturers, family problems at home, curriculum and
instruction (Ahmed et al., 2013).
In the study of Misra and McKean (2000), they found that anxiety, time management, and
leisure satisfaction were all predictors of academic stress. Also, they found that time
management behaviors of undergraduate students had a more buffering effect on academic stress

COLLEGE STUDENT MOTHERS

than leisure activities, particularly with females as they saw that females had more effective time
management than males yet experienced higher academic stress and anxiety. On the other hand,
male participants in their study were found to benefit more from leisure activities compared to
females. In line with this, the study of Misra et al., (2003), also found that women exhibited
higher reactions to stressors than men, as women are more likely to rate negative events more
seriously and more frequently compared to men. They even noted that higher levels of academic
stressors experienced by students were predicted by higher levels of life stress and by lower
levels of social support, while higher academic stressors predicted greater reactions to stressors.
When it comes to demographic profile, gender seems to play a great difference as what has been
stated on the aforementioned studies above, yet it also seems that age shows a contrasting effect
on students. Based on the results of the study of Khan et al. (2013), academic stress was found to
be higher in younger students than older college students. However, this was negated by the
study of Pozos-Radillo et al. (2014), as this study found that female university students ages 18,
23, and 25 years old were associated mostly to stress. It was also important to take note that
married students were found to experience less stress than those students who are never married
(Myers, Sweeney, Popick, Wesley, Bordfeld & Fingerhuld, 2012).
Moreover, the study of Ross, Niebling, and Heckert (2008) showed that the top five
stressors of experienced by college students are changes in sleeping habits, vacations or breaks,
changes in eating habits, increased work load, and new responsibilities, which has the same
findings with the study of Rafidah, Azizah, Norzaidi et al. (2009), as they also found in their
study that majority of the students reported that they do not get proper sleep and face nutritional
problems throughout the semester. Still with the findings of the study, they indicated that overall

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students experienced moderate level of stress brought by school yet none of the stress fsctors
significantly affect the academic performance of students.

College Student Mothers


College students are found to be involved with risky sexual relationships which ascend
the risk of conception for females (DeSimone, 2010). When pregnancy occurs, the woman
carries the burden and risk of the pregnancy and in most cases even child care. College student
mothers who are studying alongside with rearing her child experiences great amount of challenge
compared to the regular college students who have no child to tend to (Brown, Adansi, &
Amankwaa, 2007). Student mothers have multiple responsibilities like taking care of the child,
studying, and sometimes being a provider. Also, time constraints in school and challenges of
being financially stable are one of their usual challenges (Arguelles, 2008). However, there has
been a very limited attention in the psychological and educational literature when it comes to the
experiences of college student mothers who are raising a child while pursuing higher education
(Ricco, Sabet, & Cloughm, 2009).
Motherhood and studying is a very difficult phase. In the study of Sears (2001), they
examined the experiences of doctoral student mothers living at the intersection of studenthood
and motherhood. They found that the demands of family and university would create specific
challenges to the student mother. It was also noted that although their participants were able to
articulate the dominant definitions of the good mother and the good student, they refute it
because they more likely prefer to balance their responsibility as a mother as well as a student. It
was also important to know that almost all of the participants in that study insisted that their
children were their first priority above anything else.

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Spencer (2010) pointed out in her study that those single mothers who are in school are
the ones who need a stress inoculation because of the stress and challenges that they are facing.
In this study, single mother college students were termed as the overburdened college students
because of the considerable amount of responsibilities that they have on their shoulders. More
likely, single mother college students, alongside with attending classes, writing term papers and
studying for examinations, are also parenting one or more children without a partner, often with
little or no financial support. It was noted in this study that the usual stressors that the
participants reported in their study are financial demands, multiple role strain, deficits in social
support, barriers in organizational resources, parenting responsibilities, socially alienating
environment, low academic self-efficacy, histories of emotional loss and trauma, and elevated
levels of psychological distress.
Furthermore, it was also important to know that emotional and social support are what
student mothers need (Pare, 2009).They are academically stressed. Based on the study of Huff
and Thorpe (1997), single college student mothers worry over academic performance with strong
feelings of academic inadequacy, academically unprepared, helplessness and difficulty in finding
a time and place to study with young children at home.
Coping Strategies of College Students
The amount of stress experienced by the individual may influence his or her ability to
cope effectively with stressful situations that he or she might encounter. If this stress is not
effectively dealt with, this might cause him or her negative affect such as, loneliness,
nervousness, anxiety or even sleeplessness (Ross et al., 2008).
Some students were found to cope with stress using religious forms of coping in order to
alleviate their stress (Mah, 2011). While other study, such as the study of Lumley and

COLLEGE STUDENT MOTHERS

Provenzano (2003) had found that writing about the general life stress for days showed
significant reduction in anxiety state and changes in coping skills acquisition, such as decrease of
the use of denial and increase in the active coping, that pushes a person to change the situation.
Thirty-minute session of yoga, humor, and reading had been found to have similar effects in
decreasing acute stress thus, helping an individual to cope with stress (Rizzolo et al., 2009).
Based from the study of Rigsdale, Beehr, Grebner and Han (2011), engaging in specific
recovery activities during weekends, accompanied by specific subjective recovery experiences
can reduce negative psychological outcomes. They also noted that it is important for college
students to engaged themselves with resource-providing activities during leisure time so that they
will reduced the strains from their weekday overload. In other words, particular stressors
experienced during the academic work week are likely to be followed by engaging in specic
recovery activities during the weekend that may promote individuals experience of
psychological detachment, relaxation, and control; then individuals will likely perceive
themselves to be recovered at the beginning of a new week.
It was also found that the self-care practices of students were found to be significantly
related to their perceived stress level. Their sleep hygiene, social support, the emotion regulation
strategy of reappraisal and the mindful acceptance were found to be significant when it comes to
dealing with stress (Myers, Sweeney, Popick, Wesley, Bordfeld & Figerhuld, 2012). Another
study found that gaming interventions also help students cope with stress, especially those games
that mainly revolve around the themes of stimulation, challenge, social bonding, simplicity,
educational value, relaxation and solitude (Johnson, 2006). Lastly, in the qualitative study of
Khiat (2013), they found that secondary students who are not good in Math from their study,
used three main defense mechanismsavoidance, denial and apathy.

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The Present Study

Based on the aforementioned studies, it has been established that college students
experienced great academic stress (Pozos-Radillet al., 2014; Lumley & Provenzano, 2003; Misra
& McKean, 2000; Myers et al., 2012; Ross et al., 2008 & Rafidah et al., 2009), that females are
more likely to experience academic stress (Misra & McKean, 2000; Misra et al., 2003; PozosRadillo et al., 2014), that ages eighteen to twenty five are the ages that are more susceptible to
stress (Pozos-Radillo et al., 2014), that the coping strategies gathered from past literature solely
came from regular college students (Mah, 2011; Rizzolo et al., 2009; Myers et al., 2012 &
Rigsdale et al., 2011), and that the perspective of college student mothers are not yet heard when
it comes to their perceived academic stressors and coping strategies.
This study will be conducted to better understand the academic stress phenomenon
experienced by college student mothers. The main goal of this study is to determine the
perceived academic stressors that college student mothers experienced, their responses to it, as
well as their main coping strategies in order to deal with it. Perceived academic stressors that this
study will pertain is the characteristic of a stimulus or situation which causes stress based on the
individual perspective of the participants, since stress was viewed differently by people, as the
thing that might be stressful for others might not be considered stressful by other people as well
(Putwain, 2007). Other than that, this study will codify the responses of the participants through
a qualitative approach using a phenomenological method and use that as an edge to make better
meanings when it comes to the lived experiences of the participants to academic stress.
In the previous researches, there is a considerable amount of quantitative research on
academic stress (Pozos-Radillo, et al., 2014; Lumley & Provenzano, 2003;Ahmed et al., 2013 &
Misra & McKean, 2000). And that there is a need for qualitative research design using interviews

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in order to see the subjective views and perceptions of college student mothers about the stress
that they are experiencing, and their coping strategies and resources.
Research Questions
The overview of the past researches stated what the body of knowledge knew with
academic stress, I hope that this future study will be able to discover more of the individual
experiences of college student mothers experiencing academic stress through a qualitative
approach using in-depth interviews. This study will center on answering these following
questions:
1.
2.
3.
4.

What are the perceived academic stressors of college student mothers?


What are the main responses of college student mothers to academic stress?
What are the sources of strength of college student mothers?
What are the main coping strategies that college student mothers do in order to deal
with academic stress?
Method

Research Design
In this study, I will use the qualitative method of phenomenology as there is no theory of
choice. According to Flowerday and Schraw (2000), phenomenological design is appropriate
when ones goal is to explore a phenomenon about which little has been written, (p.35) which is
likely the same with my goals in this study. I will also be going to collect information from
participants who are able to describe the phenomenon through their experiences, which will
allow me to organize themes, based on their responses.
According to Wahyuni (2012), the research paradigm for this study will be
constructivism. I will have the ontological position of being subjective and socially constructed

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in this research. In epistemological terms, I will focus upon the details of the situation, or the
lived experiences of the participants.
Participants
The sample of participants will be consisted of five college student mothers. The sample
will be generated using snowballing techniques. The participants will 18-24 age-old college
women who were currently mothers while enrolled in college full time. Each participant will be
required to meet the basic requirements of being a mother and a full time student. All participants
that will be involved in this study are Filipino mothers with at least one child or more that was
two years of age or younger, and were enrolled in college full time.
Instrument (Appendix A)
The instrument that will be going to use in this study will be guided by the interview
questions that I will design, which will guide the flow of the interview with the participants,
specifically on following in-depth interviews.
Procedure
I will first give each participant an informed consent which they have to sign. This
informed consent contain all the things that they need to know about the researchits purpose
and its reason for being conducted. It is also indicated in the informed consent that the
information that they will provide will be held with great care and confidentiality. Aside from
that, I will also clear to them that they are free to leave from participating in the research once
they feel uneasy about it. I will also be going to explain the specific details on which they will be
contributing within this research.

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The data gathering procedure will be coming from a series of in-depth interviews with the
participants through their verbal responses. . In-depth interviews with the participants, will focus
on the college mothers experiences about the phenomenon of academic stressentailing their
perceived academic stressors and coping strategies, will be carried out on the participants home
or any place they deemed convenient. These verbal responses will be recorded using an audio
recorder, and will be transcribed verbatim by the interviewer. Body language, positions or any
initial observations to the interviewee will be noted. The initial in-depth interview will about to
last for 30 to 40 minutes
In-depth interviews will be used because it is the type of qualitative method that will
enable people to talk about their personal feelings, their opinions, as well as their experiences.
Aside from that, it also gives the interviewer the chance to gain insight into how the participants
interpret their experiences (Mack, Woodsong, MacQueen, Guest, & Namey, 2005).
Data Analysis
The data that will be gathered from the series of in-depth interview with the participants
the audio records, and the transcribed notes of the past focus group discussions. After
collecting it, the notes from the handwritten transcription as well as the audio recordings will be
encoded in the computer. Upon encoding the data to the computer, participants will be coded
with numbers for confidentiality.
Transcripts will be read repeatedly to identify the key themes and categories, which were
then developed into a framework for coding the body of interview data. I will analyze the data
collected using qualitative content analysis, by identifying themes based on the responses that the

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participants have given. After identifying themes based from the contexts, I will be going to ask a
professional or a researcher to help me check the data to perform test code reliability.
References
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management students. Interdisciplinary Journal of Contemporary Research in Business,
4(9), 687-699. Retrieved from

http://search.proquest.com/docview/1316270748?

accountid=28547
Arguelles, T. (2008). Undergraduate single mothers' perceptions of the impacts of college on
their cognitive and psychosocial development. (Order No. 3325042, University of
Southern California). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 71-n/a. Retrieved from
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Brown, R. L., B.A., & Amankwaa, A. A., PhD. (2007). College females as mothers: Balancing
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Conner, J., Pope, D., Galloway, M.(2010). Educational leadership. Health and Learning, 67(4),
54-58.
Fuatai,L., Soon-Schuster, F., (2001). Anxiety, stress, and coping strategies among University of
South pacific students. Pacific Helath Dialog, 8(1), 83-93.
Henry Khiat, H. (2013). A qualitative study of coping strategies in secondary level mathematics
learning: A psycho-analytic perspective. Turkish Online Journal of Qualitative Inquiry,
4(4). 1-18.

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Kerr, R.A., Breen, J., Delaney, M., Kelly, C., & Miller, K. (2011). A qualitative study of
workplace stress and coping in secondary teachers in Ireland. Irish Journal of Applied
Social Studies, 11(3), 26-38.
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Misra, R., Crist, M., & Burant, C.J. (2003). Relationships among life stress, social support,
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5245.10.2.137.
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16(1), 41-51. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/210480531?
accountid=28547

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Myers, S.B., Sweeney, A.C., Popick, V., Wesley, K., Bordfeld, A., & Fingerhut, R. (2012). Self
care practices and perceived stress levels among psychology graduate students. Training
and Education in Professional Psychology, 6(1), 5566. doi: 10.1037/a002653.
Pare, E. R. (2009). Mother and student: The experience of mothering in college. (Order No.
3387323, Wayne State University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, , 246-n/a.
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Garcia, (2014). Academic stress as a predictor of chronic stress in university students.
Psicologia Educativa, 20, 2014, 47-52.
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Appendix A
Interview #1
1. Demographic Questions: Please tell me how old you are? Where are you from originally?
Where do you live now?
2. When did you begin your college degree? When did you have children? Do you work
outside the home?; where?; doing what?
3. What prompted you to decide to go to college? What experience have you had in college
or with higher education?
4. How did/does being a mother affect your decision to go on with your education?

Interview #2
1. Please read the definition of academic stress which was defined by studies. (provided by
the researcher)
a. What do you think of that definition?
b. Does that definition match your understanding?
c. Do you think there is something missing?
2. In your own view, what is academic stress?
3. As a single mother taking up college, what are the things that make you academically
4.
5.
6.
7.

stressed?
Why do you think it causes you to be academically stressed?
What is your view about education?
What are the reasons that make you think that you can deal with it?
Tell me about the way you feel during those cases that you feel stressed because of

academics.
8. Tell me about the way you think during those cases that you feel stressed because of
academics.
9. Tell me about the way you behave during those cases that you feel stressed because of
academics.
10. Tell me about your life at school.
11. Tell me about study time in your house.
12. Where do you get your strength in dealing with academic stress?

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13. What are your ways in order to cope with those academic stressors that you just have
stated?

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