As a student, college and university often are a stressful time. You need to balance education with social life and work. Some students even have the added stress of living by themselves during these years. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), about 64% of student dropouts stopped attending class due to mental health issues.

While one could argue that it’s the student’s responsibility to seek help on this matter, a chart based on NAMI’s findings shows that 40% of students fail to seek help due to various reasons. Eventually, we have to draw the line and start looking for solutions to help struggling students regain their mental health. If we want to battle the mental health issues of our students, we need to work together.

NAMI‘s findings on students’ mental health. Source:

The Process and Benefits of Social and Emotional Learning.

Fortunately, there is a way for students of all ages to learn ways to cope with stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression. This method is called SEL: Social and Emotional Learning. What SEL does is that it helps people develop a way to understand and manage their emotions, set healthy goals, develop positive relationships with others, and improve their academic understanding. To support and spread this method, there is currently the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). This organization has been a pioneer in the field of encouraging schools and districts to apply social and emotional learning methods. Its goal is to implement SEL across multiple settings, like classrooms and schools, but also districts and families.

A study from 2011 analyzed 213 different SEL-programs involving a total of more than 270,000 school-going children. When compared to the control group, the students following an SEL-program showed significant improvements in the 11-percentile in social and emotional skills, attitude, academic performance, and behavior.

Besides, a 2017 research also points out that teachers with a higher SEL competence often apply this knowledge in their management and interaction with students as well as the reproduction of the SEL-method in the classroom.

The Goals of SEL.

According to CASEL, Social and Emotional Learning follows five core competencies:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Relationship Skills
  5. Responsible Decision-Making
CASEL‘s Wheel & Competencies. Source:

Each value focuses on a specific skill set that’s beneficial for the student in their current and future life.

When we take a closer look at each competence, we see how each core helps the social and emotional development of the student.


The student recognizes their emotions and thoughts and acknowledges the impact of those elements on their behavior. The student possesses a rational sense of confidence and optimism. Besides, the student is aware of their own strengths and limitations.


The student can regulate their emotions according to the situation they are currently in. This means that they can independently manage stress, control their impulses, motivating themselves, and setting and following up on personal and academic goals.

Social Awareness

The student can empathize with and see things from the perspective of other people from various backgrounds and cultures. The student also applies and understands the social and ethical norms of their behavior as well as to recognize support from their family, school, and community resources.

Relationship Skills

The student is able to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with both individuals and groups. They show clear communicative skills, cooperation, active listening skills, resistance to (social) pressure, conflict negotiation skills, and ask and offer help where needed.

Responsible Decision-Making

The student shows they can make well-thought-out decisions about their personal behavior and interactions based on the reasoning of ethical standards, safety concerns, social norms, the realistic evaluation of consequences, and the well-being of themselves and others.

The Approaches of SEL.

Social and Emotional Learning does not follow one single approach. In fact, there are four successful approaches in which the method is applied progressively.

Free-standing Lessons

These are lessons dedicated to teaching students about Social and Emotional Learning and focuses solely on the enhancement of the students’ competences. These lessons take place in a caring environment in which the students are encouraged to actively participate.

Teacher Instructional Practices

The teacher applies the method and concepts of SEL during their regular lessons by implementing elements like cooperative learning and project-based learning, which both promote the development of Social and Emotional Learning.

Integration with Academic Curriculum Areas

SEL is added to the academic curriculum of subjects like math, social studies, health, or language arts. Topics like these are often open to using new teaching methods, which opens the door towards learning, according to SEL.

Organizational, Culture, and Climate Strategies

This approach applies social and emotional learning on a bigger scale. In this case, SEL is promoted as a school-wide initiative to help create a climate and culture within the establishment that’s conducive to learning.

All the approaches mentioned above use the SAFER elements:

  1. Sequenced: all classes are connected and coordinated to encourage skill development
  2. Active: by using an active form of learning, all students are encouraged to apply their newly found skills and attitudes, making it easier to stick to them.
  3. Focused: each personal and social skill gets to be in the center of attention to emphasize the development of this skill.
  4. Explicit: each social and emotional skill is deconstructed, to ensure full and explicit understanding.
  5. Reflection: take the time to think about how SEL reflects on various aspects of your life and how you can apply the knowledge you gained to these aspects.

In most cases, multiple approaches are needed for the successful implementation of SEL. This depends entirely on the setting in which the students learn about social and emotional learning. For instance, a classroom may require only one type of approach, while a district-wide or home setting may need two or more methods.

What Can You Do?

If you’re a student, you may be aware of your institution’s efforts to implement SEL in your curriculum. However, some institutions are still behind on this method even though there are plenty of people that would benefit from a social and emotional learning education. Fortunately, there are a few ways in which you can benefit from SEL.

Encourage your school or community to implement SEL

By spreading awareness of the benefits of social and emotional learning, you can convince the school board to apply one (or more) of the SEL approaches to their curriculum. If they are hard to convince, you can inform your fellow students about the program and its potential. Bigger groups often help to encourage a school board to change. When you want to be sure of success, you can use some of the tips that Edutopia provides.

Use SEL-methods in your daily life

When your institution doesn’t use the social and emotional learning method, you shouldn’t have to wait to start working on your skills. There are plenty of online (certified) resources to help you maintain relationships, cope with anxiety, or any other helpful method to develop your social and emotional skill set. 

While the process of implementing SEL in your school and/or personal life may take time, you will benefit from its lessons. Keep going, and you will find yourself with the right knowledge to cope with all kinds of situations!