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  • The College Adjustment Questionnaire: A Measure of Students’ Educational, Relational, and Psychological Adjustment to the College Environment
  • Maeve B. O’Donnell (bio), Lauren A. Shirley (bio), Stacey S. Park (bio), Julian P. Nolen (bio), Alyssa M. Gibbons (bio), and Lee A. Rosén (bio)

College adjustment has been of interest to researchers for decades, with articles on the topic first appearing in the 1940s. College adjustment research has shifted over time, from a focus on college adjustment as a predictor variable or mediator to increased emphasis on college adjustment as representative of a general level of ability or functioning that has been achieved. In the 1980s, in one of the hallmark studies in college adjustment, Baker and Siryk (1984) investigated the relationship among college adjustment and attrition, connection with mental health services, grade point average, and social activities. In a later study, the impact of expectations to adjustment and actual adjustment were investigated in relation to attrition and academic standing (Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994). In recent years, the construct of college adjustment has been utilized as a primary outcome variable (e.g., Boulter, 2002; Dennis, Phinney, & Chuateco, 2005; Lapsley & Edgerton, 2002; Paul & Brier, 2001), which represents a shift from college adjustment as purely a predictor and increased emphasis on college adjustment as a general level of ability or functioning that can be achieved and is desirable.

The authors of previous research have proposed that college adjustment is composed of multiple factors, which can be further grouped into general domains of adjustment (Baker & Siryk, 1984; Credé & Niehorster, 2012; Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994). A large body of literature provides support for this proposition, with research demonstrating that there are several dimensions of adjustment— such as academic, social, and personal/emotional—that contribute to overall college adjustment (see Gerdes & Mallinckrodt, 1994, for a review of the research). Stress has been identified as a key link in difficulty to adjusting to college (Chemers, Hu, & Garcia, 2001), and considering that stress is high on college campuses and linked to increased susceptibility to mental health concerns (Smedley, Myers, & Harrell, 1993), a multidimensional measure of adjustment may provide relevant information for university personnel interested in student well-being.

Several instruments exist to measure college adjustment: the Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire (SACQ; Baker & Siryk, 1989), the College Adjustment Rating Scale (Zitzow, 1984), and the College Adjustment Scales (Anton & Reed, 1991). Of these, the SACQ is the most widely used and [End Page 116] takes a multifaceted approach to measuring college adjustment, which is important given that many researchers “would advocate that [multiple] indicators be used simultaneously so a more comprehensive picture of a student’s adjustment can be obtained” (Taylor & Pastor, 2007, p. 1003). Although the SACQ is highly valuable to research studies and demonstrates clinical utility, it is important to develop measures that are briefer and more accessible as it may be beneficial for students to be screened for adjustment concerns. In the most recent update from the American College Health Association (2016), 75% of college students reported finding some aspect of their life “very difficult to handle.” Adjustment may be a key indicator of student well-being, and a psychometrically sound, multidimensional tool of adjustment could help to identify areas with which students can be provided support in the midst of multiple stressors, such as competing educational demands and navigating difficult social environments.

Insofar as college adjustment is useful as a predictor, mediating, and outcome variable, brief, accessible, user-friendly, easily interpretable, reliable, and valid measures of college adjustment become increasingly pertinent as an assessment tool to understand factors contributing to, explaining, and consequential to successful and poor adjustment. The College Adjustment Questionnaire (CAQ) was developed as a brief, reliable alternative, and we sought to establish the validity and reliability of this instrument with this study.



A total of 301 students participated in data collection at a large Western university in the United States, and students from Introductory Psychology classes were recruited. In return for participating in this study, individuals received credit toward Introductory Psychology course requirements. A total of 163 participants were female (54.2%), 222 were first-year students (73.8%), and 236 identified as White non-Hispanic (78.4%). The average age...


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