The Moderating Impact of Social Support Among Social Work Students

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Abstract. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between academic stress and perceived resilience among social work students, and to identify social support as a protective factor of resilience on this relationship. A conceptual model of moderation was used to test the role of social support as protective. Methods: The sample consisted of 314 social work students (BSW=144; MSW=170) from three accredited schools/programs in the southern United States. Voluntary survey data were collected on demographics and constructs of academic stress, family support, friend support, and resilience. Hierarchical regression analysis was conducted to show the composite impact of demographic and model factors on the resilience outcome. Moderation was tested using a traditional regression series as guidelines of moderation with continuous variables. Path analyses illustrated main effects and moderation in the study’s conceptual model. Results: The sample reported moderate levels of academic stress and social support, and a fairly high level of resilience. Academic stress negatively related to social support and resilience. Social support positively influenced resilience. Academic stress accounted for the most variation in resilience scores. Friend support significantly moderated the negative relationship between academic stress and resilience. Conclusion: The current study demonstrated the likelihood that friend support plays a protective role with resilience amid an environment of academic stress. Implications for social work faculty and internship agency practitioners are discussed.

Keywords: Academic stress; resilience; social support; social work students

A number of demands reportedly comprise academic stress: course requirements; time management issues; financial burdens; interactions with faculty; personal goals; social activities; adjustment to the campus environment; and lack of support networks (Kariv & Heiman, 2005; Misra, 2000; Von Ah, Ebert, Ngamvitroj, Park, & Hang, 2004). Specific to this latter demand is an implicit assumption that existence or upsurge of social support may moderate, to some degree, academic stress. Social support is often deemed a buffer against the negative effects of stress, including stress in an academic context (Steinhardt & Dolbier, 2008).

Several studies have revealed the impactful relationship between social support and academic stress among a variety of academic disciplines and college student populations. Heiman (2006) noted that academic perceptions are significantly attributable to external factors, including social networks, among university students with learning disabilities. Negga, Applewhite, and Livingston (2007) showed that greater levels of social support were significantly related to lower levels of stress among African American students at historically Black colleges and universities. MacGeorge, Samter, and Gillihan (2005) observed a moderating effect of informational, supportive communicative behaviors from


family and friends on the relationship between academic stress and psychological health students in communication classes. MacGeorge et al. explained that “the association between academic stress and depression decreased as informational support increased” (p. 369). Cahir and Morris (1991) stated that a principal component of stress among graduate psychology students is limited by emotional support from friends.

A recent study by Steinhardt and Dolbier (2008) emphasized the interactional relationship between academic stress and social support among students with various majors at undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. They noted that the stressful academic environment of the college student warrants research with outcomes that reflect the student’s ability to adapt to and/or overcome adversity. Such is the case with the current study of social work students. The purpose of this study is...
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