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A Note on Burnout in Undergraduate Students

Nicole Kuznetsov

Burnout is the psychological process due to extreme stress and pressure from external factors. These may be family, friends, academic, or personal struggles. The roots of burnout have not been determined with certainty; however, many studies now qualify undergraduate studies as one of the causes for its prevalence among students. Burnout can cause emotional stress, depression, anxiety, and other psychological illnesses which may not present immediately. Instead, it often goes unnoticed since students do not know that some of the feelings and stresses they experience represent burnout. Here are three (studies) which detail elements of burnout and its possible solutions.

A study done in 2012 used a sample population of undergraduate students from UC San Diego. They quantified burnout using the Maslach Burnout Inventory Student Survey and surveyed both general undergraduate students and pre-medical students. The results showed that pre medical students had greater depression severity and emotional exhaustion than non-premedical students (Fang et Al, 2012). But in general, the study showed how all students can easily experience burnout and how it can escape being easily recognized. Instead, burnout is often interpreted as depression or anxiety. Depression and anxiety have a heavy correlation to burnout in students as they have an immense amount of pressure on them. It is now mainstream to study for long hours often with a lack of sleep and nutrition. This along with a constant need for perfection and attentiveness snowballs into burnout.

Another 2009 burnout study involved 191 college undergraduates. It, too, used the Maslach scale along with the Academic Motivation Scale which applies the self-determination theory and includes 28 questions. The results showed that intrinsic motivations are negatively correlated to exhaustion (Pisarik 2009). There is a positive correlation, though, between intrinsic motivation and efficacy. Students who were more motivated to attend college showed more efficacy in a professional capacity. The study pointed out that college is seen as a financial motivation for the future and therefore creates a pressure for the long-term results of students. This is seen as a means for greater security and a more stable life. Due to this, the results reflect higher levels of exhaustion and anxiety in students. This is a long-standing sentiment that has been ingrained into students’ minds. An intervention in the thought process of students and how they view vocational success should be addressed.

In addition to academic interventions, there must be more intimate ones. A third study done in 2003, illustrates the need for social support and personality effects in burnout. There is an overload of information rather than objective workload being given to students (Dodd et Al. 2003). Students experience a wide array of depersonalization in academic work. This study is able to illustrate a vital intervention to stop this which is to have support. In addition to the support, the study saw an increase in burnout awareness following open discussion about it with freshmen. When students are presented with signs and symptoms of burnout, they are better equipped to recognize – and work on– it. Therefore, a vital part of intervening with burnout is education.

All three studies on student burnout show similar causes and symptoms and suggest similar methods of intervention. As an academic community, universities should provide seminars and workshops on burnout. Students who can recognize a symptom or two may be more likely to search for help (Dodd et Al. 2003). Burnout manifests as many different things, most commonly depression and anxiety. It is imperative not to mistake depression as always being sad. It can often manifest as lack of motivation and seeing student’s doing their work mechanically. There are so many factors that go into burnout that they should all be examined.

Of all the possible interventions and solutions proposed throughout studies on this topic, educating students is the most crucial. Without educating students on burnout, its corresponding symptoms and possible stressors can go unnoticed. Burnout is so prevalent among students but ironically and sadly, it’s so minimally explored. More research and understanding of how the neuropsychology of burnout targets the brains of adolescents would allow a deeper view into how to understand the symptomatic outcomes. Furthermore, having support from family, universities, and faculty towards the circumstances of students would be a giant help.


Fang, D. Z., YoungB., Golshan, S., Moutier, C., & Zisook, S. (2012). Burnout in premedical undergraduate students. Academic psychiatry: the journal of the American Association of Directors of Psychiatric Residency Training and the Association for Academic Psychiatry, 36(1),11–16. appi.ap.10080125

Jacobs, S. R., & Dodd, D. (2003). Student burnout as a function of personality, social support, and workload. Journal of College Student Development, 44(3), 291- 303. Doi:10.1353/csd.2003.0028

Pisarik, C.T. (2009). Motivational orientation and burnout among undergraduate college students. College Student Journal, 43(4), 1238+. /apps/doc/A217511785/AONE?u=nysl_oweb&sid=googleScholar& xid=5f570 7ee

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