Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Emerging adulthood is a developmental period associated with a variety of transitions and changes, including rising rates of mental health concerns (Arnett, 2004, 2006; Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2020). The literature has established that both psychological and academic functioning are critical components of students’ lives, as mental health has been shown to interfere with students’ grades, graduation rates, and postgraduate employment (Hartley, 2010; Mojtabai et al., 2015), while poor achievement is associated with mental health challenges in college and beyond (Bruffaerts et al., 2018; Respondek et al., 2017). Additionally, women and men have been shown to experience these areas of functioning differently. However, less is known about how psychological functioning and academic outcomes impact one another throughout college as well as how gender is implicated in these relations. Using random-intercept cross-lagged panel modeling (RI-CLPM), the present study investigated the interrelations between mental health and academics at five time points throughout college among two cohorts of students. Analyses identified three distinct critical periods such that (1) greater distress at the start of college was predictive of higher grades at the end of the first year, (2) higher grades between the first and third years were predictive of higher well-being between the second and fourth years, and (3) greater distress in the third year was predictive of poorer grades by the fourth year. Additionally, women were consistently shown to experience worse outcomes with respect to the latter two patterns. Surprisingly, academic performance was overall a stronger and more important predictor in the model than psychological functioning in both autoregressive and cross-lagged paths. The findings have important implications for future directions for research to further identify vulnerable students as well as for campuses to implement screening and targeted prevention programs to support students’ functioning.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.