Students’ adjustment to novel social and academic settings is an urgent modern problem because the further professional career and personal development of the future specialist largely depend on the success of the adaptation process. The most vulnerable in this regard are first-year students. At the initial stage of their studies, they are faced with many difficult life situations that can lead to stress. According to Schofield et al. (2016), these include a change of residence and separation from their familiar environment, comparative freedom of student life, and increased mental and physical stress. Therefore, this research aims to examine newcomers’ social connectedness and personality traits, including conscientiousness, as a factor of psychological stress in the adaptation process in the first year of university studies.
Social connectedness is an essential aspect for the successful adaptation of first-year students and the reduction of their stress levels. Nguyen et al. (2019) affirm that social bonds are a predictor of depression among college students and acculturation stress among international students. International students leaving their country to study in a completely new environment lose touch with their past connections. These losses pose a threat to the student’s mental health and also contribute to the development of depression. Thus, the construction of social relations in everyday communication is one of the critical tasks of students’ socialization, which helps reduce the stress level for newcomers.
Social connectedness is of particular importance in the context of the widespread introduction of restrictive measures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. It forced students to study from home through virtual online platforms, which damaged their social connections. Al-Kumaim et al. (2021) state that when students find themselves in an unfamiliar environment, when former social connections are lost and new ones have not yet been built, this causes stress and poor mental health. Moreover, according to Craig et al. (2020), women show significantly higher depression, anxiety, social phobias, and PTSD than men in isolation associated with COVID-19. In turn, Ellis et al. (2020) found that stress among students in the COVID-19 setting was associated with greater loneliness, while those who spent more time with their family had fewer symptoms of mental illness. Therefore, in the conditions of isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of social connectedness for freshmen students is actualized.
One of the critical aspects of overcoming stress by first-year students is their personality traits. In this regard, conscientiousness plays a particular role, including reliability, responsibility, carefulness in work, discipline, self-control, and organization. The results of the study by Pollak et al. (2020) show that conscientiousness is a positive predictor of stress. Thus, students who are characterized by conscientiousness and fear of making a mistake react with anxiety in situations that require them to adhere to high standards. The same idea is supported by a study by Ervasti et al. (2019), according to which conscientiousness is negatively associated with reflection, anxiety, depressive symptoms, and stress. However, Poropat (2009) notes that conscientiousness is the most reliable predictor of academic performance. Morris and Fritz (2015) took this issue even further by looking at conscientiousness in coursework and exam preparation. Scientists have found that the impact of conscientiousness in coursework is more significant than in exam preparation. Thus, while conscientiousness is a factor in high academic performance, this trait contributes to increased stress in students.
Based on the consideration of the above sources, the following hypotheses can be presented:
- H1: Social conscientiousness has a negative relationship with student stress.
- H2: Conscientiousness is a positive predictor of student stress.
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