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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


6 Fears and Concerns of College Students Today

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As president of Growing Leaders, I am consistently digging up research or hosting focus groups with both adults (parents, faculty, coaches, employers) and with students. Recently, I assembled the following list of six big concerns that university students expressed to me, about their life and career. They furnish us with a peek into their hearts and minds—and inform us as we lead them.

1. They list the need to grow up faster among the biggest disadvantages of their generation.

Most admit to feeling unready for the world that awaits them following graduation; they are even fearful.

Many finish college and return home to live with their parents for the next three to four years. They are waiting to grow up and find the perfect job and mate. They want to pursue a calling not just a career.

2. They are not happy with the direction of the country.

Sixty two percent of Generation Y believes our country is heading the wrong direction. They are the most unemployed demographic; corruption remains in Washington DC and on Wall Street and America is still at war. They’re more conservative politically than their parents on some issues but have more progressive ideas on other issues. They definitely don’t like the divisive, angry politics going on today.

3. In some ways they are at odds with their own beliefs and values.

They’re struggling with their spirituality; faith is important to them, but organized religion is a turn-off. When asked who they would like to have dinner with (living or dead), Jesus Christ remains the number one sought-after dinner guest, with almost twice as many votes as others in prior studies.

4. They don’t see the world in black or white; right or wrong.

Most think littering is absolutely wrong, however only half of those same students say it’s absolutely wrong to exaggerate on a resume or not declare all of one’s income on an IRS form. Most possess situational ethics. They want to possess values, but life has been very convenient for them, with little need to sacrifice for what is right.

5. Their career plan involves “one big break” instead of steadily plodding up the ladder.

Most talk about the hope of one significant breakthrough or opportunity where they will be “noticed” or will invent something and suddenly become rich or famous or free to do what they want to do. The idea of “paying your dues” is unappealing to them. Most don’t envision working hard at something they’re not passionate about.

6. They want their life to count.

Nine out of ten of them think about the future several times a week. They desire a “life of purpose” and want to engage in work that has a higher meaning than to merely draw a paycheck. They’re trying to make sense of it all, but life gives them an anxious eagerness about the future.

Would you add any to this list? What fears and concerns do you see in students today? How can we lead them well through these challenges?


  1. Brian Musser on May 31, 2012 at 6:43 am

    I would think something about relationships needs to be on the list.  They spend most of their time and effort managing relationships yet the seem uncertain whether they will ever be able to truly give or receive real love.  Not a fear of finding but also a fear being prepared to show it themselves.

    • Tim Elmore on May 31, 2012 at 2:37 pm

      Great addition. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Taryn DiMartile on May 31, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I just discovered your blog this morning and I’m so glad I did. Great article! I work with college students, too, and these insights into the way they think and the things they are expressing concern about are very helpful. I shared this post on our company Facebook and Twitter because we have a lot of parents who follow us and will really benefit from and appreciate these insights. Thank you for sharing your research and I look forward to seeing more helpful blog posts in the future!

    (Sorry about the name – I thought I was logged into my personal Twitter, but apparently I wasn’t and now I can’t change or delete it.)

    ~Taryn DiMartile

    • Tim Elmore on May 31, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      So glad you found the site. Thanks so much for sharing the post and taking time to comment. Hope you continue to find helpful articles here!

  3. Greg Barber on May 31, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    The uncertainty of future is a huge one. Whether it being the difficulty to find the right job out of college, or the slow (Possible) collapse of the US, we don’t know what the future holds. Will we even have an opportunity to use our degrees?

    • Tim Elmore on May 31, 2012 at 2:44 pm

      That is definitely another huge concern for students today. Thanks for taking time to comment!

  4. Tom Neyhart on June 6, 2012 at 11:34 am

    Although I am new to campus ministry, I have been in ministry and involved with high school students for several years.  One of the things that is carrying over to the twenty somethings is willingness to sacrifice the quality of community in order to find a place to belong. 

    • Tim Elmore on June 12, 2012 at 10:28 am

      Great point. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  5. Brandon Smith on July 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Dr. Elmore,

    Thanks for the great blog. I’ve been a long-time reader and fan of your work. So appreciate it.

    I work with college students and found this article to be very fascinating. In fact, I wrote a two part response to the 6 fears and concerns you list here on my blog. There have been some interesting responses from college students themselves that I thought you might find interesting.

    Part 1:

    Part 2:

    Thanks, Tim!

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6 Fears and Concerns of College Students Today