Date of Award

Fall 2020

Degree Type




Director of Thesis

Sayward Harrison, Ph.D.

First Reader

Valerie Yelverton

Second Reader

Valerie Yelverton


Introduction: The emergence of COVID-19 has rapidly transformed the framework of our world in immeasurable ways. Social distancing and online learning have seemingly had a negative effect on students’ mental health amidst the rising stress of life during a global pandemic. Higher levels of perceived social support have been shown to have a buffering impact on the negative effects of stress. Therefore, the present study seeks to investigate how these effects differ among college students during their return to school in the Fall of 2020.

Method: A convenience sample of 257 students from the University of South Carolina was surveyed on demographic factors, their current academic enrollment experiences, their living situation, and their perceived support which was measured by a modified version of the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS). The MSPSS was modified to include questions about perceived social support from their professors, as well as from friends, family, and significant others.

Results: Female participants were significantly more likely than male participants to report high perceived social support (75% vs 50%) p=0.002. Female participants (M=5.55; SD=.89) reported significantly higher overall social support than males (M=5.05; SD=1.03), p < .05 as well as on the Significant Other subscale (M=5.86; SD=1.40). Participants who reported high course format satisfaction also reported higher perceived support (76% vs 63%) p=0.034. No significant differences were found between individual item responses and course format or living arrangement.

Discussion: COVID-19 has created unique challenges for learning and socialization among college students. The data in the present study poses that undergraduate men may be particularly vulnerable, and extra efforts to ensure increased social connection among male students during the pandemic are warranted. In addition, our data shows that students’ perceptions of their learning experiences are linked to their social support during the pandemic, particularly from their professors. Future research is needed to explore these findings.

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© 2020, Erin Godfrey