Abstract: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Social Work Student Stress (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Social Work Student Stress

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Aynsley Scheffert, PhD, PhD Candidate, Baylor University; BSW Program Director/Assistant Professor, Bethel University, Baylor University, Waco, TX
Danielle Parrish, PhD, Professor, Baylor University, Houston, TX
Helen Harris, EdD, Associate Professor, Baylor University, Waco, TX

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unparalleled impact on daily life across the world. Precautionary safety measures led to a rapid change in instruction and campus life for students. The extant disaster literature provides some context for better understanding pandemic related academic disruption. Disasters have been shown to increase the risk of substance use disorders, PTSD, traumatic grief and other mental health concerns in student populations. Social work students also experience the negative impacts of disaster related stress, especially given the additive exposure to the effects on vulnerable, impacted populations served in field placements. To assess social work students’ experiences of stress following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the current survey of U.S. social work undergraduate and graduate students describes: 1) students’ experiences of COVID-19 related stress, academic stress, and access to supports; 2) changes in academic stress following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic; and 3) program and COVID-19 related factors that contributed to academic stress following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.


This cross-sectional survey assessed the perceptions and experiences of undergraduate and graduate students in the United States following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The questionnaire – which was distributed to the Social Work Deans and Directors Listserv to share with students - consisted of 65 items: demographic variables, the Coronavirus Impact Scale, the Perception of Academic Stress Scale, and the Perceived Stress Scale. Two composite variables assessed access to academic resources and program support. The survey was administered online using Qualtrics between April 24, 2020 - May 26, 2020. Descriptive statistics were utilized to report demographics and scale responses items for the sample. A paired-t test assessed change in students’ perceived academic stress before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple linear regression analysis assessed the prediction of model variables (access to academic resources, program support, and social support) on the academic stress change score and overall academic stress score following the COVID-19 pandemic.


526 students responses with 463 completed surveys, yielded a survey completion rate of 88% across 28 states and the District of Columbia. Results indicate high levels of COVID-19 pandemic stress with the most frequent stressors including changes in routine and lack of access to basic necessities. The paired samples t-test identified an increase in students’ perceived academic stress following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The multivariate regression identified program support, COVID-related change, and access to resources as predictive of academic stress.


Findings from this study suggest students’ perceptions of academic stress increased significantly from before to after the pandemic, highlighting the importance of attending programmatically to academic disruption due to natural or health related disasters. Predictors of academic stress suggest ways to better understand program and crisis related factors to prevent academic stress, thereby improving the success of social work student success and reducing resource access disparities.