Emotions and College Planning

Raquel BermejoAssociate Vice President, Market Research and PlanningDecember 8, 2022

In 2022 RNL surveyed high school counselors and parents of high school students, and overwhelmingly they shared that the mental and emotional health of students was their most pressing concern. In addition, counselors said mental and emotional health was their primary job focus, and parents shared their worries about how mental and emotional health issues might impact their students’ lives and transition into college and adulthood.

Other research studies have reiterated how many prospective college students struggle with these issues. A survey conducted by the Harris Poll found that 70 percent of teens are struggling with their mental health. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 32 percent of adolescents suffer from anxiety, while the World Health Organization found that one in seven 10-19-year-olds experiences a mental disorder. Depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are also among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is unfortunately the second leading cause of death of young persons aged 15-24 according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“There’s a crack in the door,” U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said at the American Council on Education Mental Health in Higher Education Roundtable. “We need to blow that door open in terms of enabling the kind of conversations about mental health that happen all the time about physical health … mental health is health. It’s part of our health—no less important than physical health.”

According to the Gallup and the Lumina Foundation, mental health is one of the top reasons many college students are considering dropping out of college. In fact, according to the same report, more than three-quarters of bachelor’s degree students who have considered dropping out in the past six months cite emotional stress as the reason. College presidents have also recognized the mental health crisis in their campuses, with nearly 70 percent of presidents identifying student mental health as among their most pressing issues according to ACE.

Understanding the impact of student emotions on college search: Our survey of 2,000 12th-grade students

Given these facts, are we too naïve in assuming that all kids are excited about leaving home, going to college, and starting this new chapter of their lives? Are we assuming each step of the college planning is exciting and fun for the kids going through them? (or suffering through them?)

Earlier this fall, RNL and ZeeMee partnered to study these questions. As a result, we took the first step to understanding how emotions affect college planning and how we can help students by acknowledging those feelings, validating them, and offering tools and channels to understand the college planning process and steps. This is a work in progress for us, but we are committed to understanding and developing the messaging, communications, and tools to help high school students be less stressed and more prepared for each step of their journey to college.

We surveyed over 2,000 students in 12th grade, and their answers stopped us right on our tracks.We learned that:

  • 89% feel stressed very often; nearly half of them say the feeling is there most of the time.
  • 79% feel anxious very often and 35% feel anxious most of the time.
  • 74% feel worried very often and 26% of them worry most of the time
Blog: College students and emotions, results of students who feel stressed, anxious, or depressed

We can’t assume those feelings are not part of their college planning experience, and if so, how is college planning making these students feel? And is college planning contributing to their stress, anxiety, and worry? Here is what they shared:

Four college planning activities that make students feel anxious

  • Not knowing when they are going to hear if they got in
  • Not knowing if they will be able to afford to pay for college
  • Not knowing if they will get into their first-choice school
  • Doing an admissions interview in person

Five college planning activities that make students feel worried

  • Forgetting to submit a required form
  • Not knowing if they will be able to afford to pay for college
  • Not knowing if they will get into their first-choice school
  • Doing an admissions interview in person
  • Doing a virtual admissions interview

We will repeat this survey in January, March, May, and July 2022. Stay tuned to learn how these students feel throughout their final year in high school and how we can transform the way we can engage high students in light of this information. The final results will be shared by RNL and ZeeMee at the 2023 RNL National Conference (one more reason to attend the conference!).

We want to find positive, constructive, and engaging ways to inform students of their college options, steps, and process in a way that’s not threatening, in a way that helps them, informs them, and makes them feel “I can do this!”

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About the Author

Dr. Raquel Bermejo

Dr. Raquel Bermejo analyzes existing search, inquiry, and conversion data in addition to conducting original research with college-seeking students and parents to understand trends and student behaviors. Her research informs and enhances the services the...

Read more about Raquel's experience and expertise

Reach Raquel by e-mail at Raquel.Bermejo@RuffaloNL.com.

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