Stress and wellbeing in urban college students in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic: Can grit and gratitude help?


  • Giacomo Bono
  • Kresimir Reil California State University Dominguez Hills
  • Jadwiga Hescox California State University Dominguez Hills


College is filled with opportunity, challenge and growth – as students expand their relationships and social capital, make formative life decisions, and overcome stress to achieve life goals. The current short-term longitudinal study started before campus closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ended at the completion of the semester at an urban university. It investigates the stress and subjective wellbeing of freshmen, impacts of the pandemic on their psychological, academic and financial wellbeing and their resilience to the pandemic during this period, and the role of socioeconomic status. It also examines whether grit and gratitude helped in these areas. First, we compared students (N = 86 freshmen) in terms of their parents’ education level; high vs. low groups were created (i.e., completed high school or less vs. started or completed college up to graduate school). The low group reported significantly more perceived stress and subjective wellbeing than the high group prior to the pandemic. Next, examination of the two groups in terms of pandemic impacts and pandemic resilience revealed that the low group reported significantly more financial and academic impacts than the high group, but not more resilience or life event stress. Finally, we examined grit and gratitude prior to the pandemic and found that grit predicted significantly greater pandemic resilience and marginally lower psychological impact and that gratitude predicted significantly less impact to academic functioning at the end of the semester. However, the low parent education group also increased in grateful emotion, whereas the high parent group decreased, suggesting that gratitude helped the low group more during the pandemic. Overall results suggest that grit and gratitude can be promoted to protect college students’ subjective wellbeing and better cope with adversity of the pandemic. The study closes with suggestions for intervention.


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