How Academic Stress Impacts the Mental Health of College Students


Experiencing stress as a college student seems like a rite of passage. Higher education is meant to be challenging, after all! Surveys and data show that students feel challenged and stressed across many different aspects of their lives, but 87% of college students from one survey reported that their education was “their primary source of stress.” 

If higher education is such a huge contributor to the stress level that young adults are experiencing, then it’s also a perfect avenue to provide tools and resources for students to manage their stress. Soft skills such as communication, interpersonal relationships, understanding social situations, and dealing with blended learning environments aren’t just abilities that students will benefit from today; they’re also the skills that future employers desperately seek.

Why Stress Management Matters Today and in the Future

Higher education naturally presents students with plenty of stressful situations. Homework, exams, laboratory exercises, social activities, class rankings, and competition for internships, fellowships, and jobs are all incredibly high-pressure situations. Academic stress often negatively influences a student’s ability to focus, perform well at work, maintain friendships, and complete their coursework. In short, being overwhelmed does not lead to the type of academic experience that any college aspires to provide.

But it isn’t only today that managing academic stress matters for students. One study found that by examining students' self-regulation and mental health management skills, researchers could predict health problems, socioeconomic situations, and the potential for future criminal activity. Those are some very long-term impacts on the lives of our students!

Higher education aims to have students graduate and move on to successful careers and community involvement, not leave students burned out and missing soft skills that complement their technical skills. But how can colleges and universities provide every student with the life skill training they need?

How Soft Skills Help Students Cope with Academic Stress

Soft skills bring students an array of capabilities that will help them manage stress, complete their coursework, and be competitive in their applications for full-time work. CNBC points out that millions of job applications specifically list soft skills including:

  • Communication 
  • Customer service
  • Scheduling
  • Time management
  • Project management
  • Analytical thinking
  • Ability to work independently
  • Flexibility

Those aren’t just qualities that will help graduates land jobs. The ability to communicate with fellow students and professors helps students deal with the stress of class and group projects, ask for what they need, and support fellow students. Time management and scheduling are critical to minimizing stress because students can make the most of their time to complete their work and take care of themselves. These skills allow students to have perspective, be flexible, and work together — all of which have a positive impact on their mental health and increase their ability to handle stress.

But class curriculums are already packed full, leaving professors with very little time to add more topics. While some soft skills are covered in existing classes, there’s no guarantee that each of your students will get the soft skills they need in their existing coursework. So how can colleges and universities ensure every student has access to a full set of soft skills development?    

Choosing a Soft Skills Program to Fit the Needs of Your Students

The right soft skills program can impact the mental well-being of all your students. Topics like effective communication, emotional intelligence, and time management are universally applicable, so they should be equally available across your student body. Students experience different stressors. The American Addiction Centers reports that Arts students are most stressed about homework, while IT and Technology students say exams are most stressful, and Medical students claim fierce competition as their main stressor — but all of these stresses can be better managed with good soft skills.  

Rather than putting the burden on professors to incorporate every soft skill into their curriculum, it is likely more expedient that you select a soft skills program that can be made available across campus. FranklinCovey’s LeaderU courses are designed to develop soft skills in students. For example, the course 7 Habits of Highly Effective College Students helps to:

  • Enhance student engagement
  • Improve persistence
  • Strengthen learning
  • Increase retention and completion rates

By making programs like LeaderU available for students, you’ll be providing them with the opportunity to learn how to manage their academic stress today while also preparing them to be successful in the future.

FranklinCovey’s LeaderU courses facilitate the personal and professional advancement of future leaders by offering a rich library of verifiable certificate programs. LeaderU Knowledge Certificates are industry-recognized as helping develop the career skills of today’s students and tomorrow’s employees. To learn more about the value-add of offering industry-recognized certificate courses to your curriculum, take a tour of LeaderU.


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