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Emotional needs of college students


Every year in Ireland, many thousands of college students drop out. In 2016 for example,  about one in six, or just over 6,000, students did not progress to second year. Many drop out at the end of the year because they realise they have chosen the wrong course (computer science has especially high drop out rates) – but sadly others drop out early on simply because of home sickness and inability to cope with a new life away from home and close childhood friends and family.

How can we ensure that our teenagers go away to college with the best chance of success?

What do we need to know about the emotional needs of college students?

My previous few articles looked at the idea that we come into the world with a set of emotional (as well as physical) needs that have to be met if we are to be emotionally healthy and resilient to stress and mental illness. There is broad agreement today about what these needs are and some of the most important are: Security, attention (to give and receive it), a sense of autonomy and control, emotional intimacy (to know that at least one other person accepts us totally for who we are, “warts ‘n’ all”), feeling part of a wider community, privacy — opportunity to reflect and consolidate experience, an emotional connection to others, sense of status within social groupings, sense of competence and achievement and most important, a sense of meaning and purpose — which comes from being stretched in what we do and think.

Case Study: Ted

Over the past ten years I have given out discussion exercises (based on fictional case studies) to groups of adults in the classroom, as part of a Carers qualification. ne such exercise is about a 19 year old college student, Ted:

Ted is 19 years of age and has recently moved from Kerry, where he grew up, to do a course in medicine in University College, London.  In Kerry he had a large and close-knit family and a group of friends he had known since childhood. While he is delighted to have got a place on a course in such a competitive area, he is finding the first few weeks challenging as the workload is heavy and much is expected of him – both from his lecturers and his family in Ireland. He is living in student accommodation and the demands of his course have meant that he has little time for socialising at present.

Looking at the Emotional Needs Audit, how would Ted score?

Students would say that in some ways, Ted’s emotional needs and being well met – he is doing something he really wants to do, his family are proud of his achievements, he is being challenged and stretched, there may well be a strong sense of status. However, it seems that what he is most missing is the sense of close emotional connection – he is far away from close friends and family, in a city and country that is unfamiliar to him. He is finding he has little time to establish a social life which would certainly help him to settle in more quickly. He is also perhaps feeling a loss of control and security– is he able to meet the high expectations of his family and lecturers?  The first few weeks at college are crucial for any students and if Ted can simply survive and get through them, he should be able to start to regain a sense of control of his life and find ways to make more of a work-life balance – so that he and enjoy the benefits of the non-academic side of college life!

How are your own needs being met?

Check out how well your own emotional needs are being met right now! If you would like a free copy of the Emotional Needs Audit , click here:

Need some advice and support?

If you would like to discuss any of the  issues raised in this article further, or perhaps look at ways that you can start to get your own or  your family’s emotional needs met in a balanced way, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!

See also: Children’s’ Emotional Needs, Essential Tools to help us meet our needs, Emotional Needs Audit