College Stress: How Your Empathy Can Impact Others


As a high school senior, I have experienced far more stress in my life than I think anyone ever intended. I hear several conversations among peers every day that are solely about their stress. Probably about a third of the conversations I hear are about being too busy, too tired, or both. It seems like every day in high school is a Monday, and I want to do something about that.

It’s no secret that young people are reporting higher levels of depression and anxiety than ever before, but why is that? Many professionals think it’s due to the increased pressure on students to succeed. It’s all about competition; if you don’t end up at a top university, you have failed. That’s why so much of the stress falls on high school seniors, who are trying to balance good grades and schoolwork while also visiting and applying to colleges at the same time.

While I don’t know if there’s much I alone can do to change that, the thing I can try to do is alleviate some of that pressure.


S O   M U C H   S T R E S S !

More competition and pressure to go to good colleges causes stress levels to be exceedingly high in high school. In 2015, a famous study conducted by New York researchers surveyed students and teachers at two private schools in the northeastern United States. 49% of students reported that on a daily basis, they felt “a great deal of stress.” Another 31% reported feeling “somewhat stressed” every day. Over 60% said that getting into college was a source of this stress.

Yet there are definitive methods that students seek out to cope with stress. When asked what helped reduce their stress, 70% of the student body said their friends did, and 51% said their family. By maintaining these positive relationships, young people can actually help themselves.



I S   I T   E V E R Y W H E R E ?

I wanted to find out how relevant these issues were at my school, which is also a private school in the northeastern US. In a survey of my senior class, I found that the vast majority felt stressed during the college process.

Of that majority, 51% said that they felt “very stressed” on a daily basis, and 31% said they felt “somewhat stressed.” Afterwards, during interviews with my peers, many said that the main thing they did to alleviate stress was hang out with their friends and do something to take their mind off college applications.



I wanted to find out what about these close relationships was helping students cope with stress. In my research, I came across the concept of empathy. What is empathy? The dictionary defines it as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Ask a psychologist, and they’ll tell you it is an essential component of a healthy relationship. Expressing empathy shortens the distance between two people and helps both parties. Science actually shows that when we express empathy, pleasure centers in the brain become active, and the same is true when a person feels that empathy is being directed towards them. It also promotes social closeness and subjective wellbeing. As American psychologist Carl Rogers so eloquently put it when asked about empathy, “When someone really hears you without passing judgement on you, without trying to take responsibility for you, without trying to mold you, it feels damn good!”

Maybe the reason more high schoolers turn to their peers for stress relief than their family is because people their age understand what they’re going through…


S O . . .   W H A T   D O   W E   D O   A B O U T   I T ?

As seniors who have already gone through the college process, we know what a stressful time it is for most people. We know what helped and what made things worse, and what it took to get through it. Yet all that useful knowledge was going to waste when each twelfth grade class graduated without ever getting to share their experiences. In order to help future senior classes, I decided to tap into my peers’ close understanding of the college process. I asked each of the current seniors to write down one piece of advice they have, which I then printed up and cut into individual slips of paper. These are now sitting in a bowl in my school’s college counseling office for any student to take when they come in for a meeting!

H O W   Y O U   C A N   H E L P   T O O

Given how widespread the issue of college stress is, everyone should be helping their peers mitigate some of their pressure. I would like to invite you to print and cut out this file of some of the same advice I gave to the kids at my school. Put it in a bowl or a box in a place where students can see what it is and easily grab a piece of wisdom as they walk by!

S H A R E   Y O U R   E X P E R I E N C E S :

Tell me about a time when someone in your life expressed empathy to you and it made you feel better. Also feel free to “like” others’ posts!

Made with Padlet



“Benefits of Empathy.” Building a Culture of Empathy – Benefits of Empathy, Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

“Culture of Empathy Builder: Sylvia Morelli.” Building a Culture of Empathy, Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

“Five Benefits of Healthy Relationships | Why Healthy Relationships Are So Important.” Northwestern Medicine, 9 Oct. 2015

Groen, Danielle. “The Surprising Science Behind Friendship.” Reader’s Digest

Leonard, et al. “A Multi-Method Exploratory Study of Stress, Coping, and Substance Use among High School Youth in Private Schools.” Frontiers in Psychology, 6 July 2015

Olson, Samantha. “High School Students Are Stressed Out About College Admissions; The Reality Of Burning Out Before College.” Medical Daily, 12 Aug. 2015

Simon, Adam. “How Friendship Affects Your Health: Stress, Sharing & Good Habits.” Push Doctor, 18 Dec. 1970

Share this project
  1. April 26, 2018 by Maddy King

    This is so cool, Nina! Very informative.

  2. April 26, 2018 by Jennie Kim

    This is great Nina!!

  3. April 27, 2018 by Jenny Carlson Pietraszek

    Nina – Thoughtful, well-researched, and action-oriented. I love that instead of standing in the halls talking about being stressed, you decided to figure out one way to alleviate the stress (relationships with friends and family) and a method for many to benefit from the wisdom of those who have recently survived the college process. Way to go!

  4. April 27, 2018 by Lily Hicks

    Great job Nina! Love this

  5. April 28, 2018 by susan

    hi there, nina… you are a good writer! so appreciated how well you summarized and captured the essential ideas. esp appreciated your analogy — every day feels like a monday. so revealing. i did wonder about that 9% at nobles who said they weren’t stressed out during the college process. why? what do they know and what do they do that we should know more about? i did appreciate the specific strategies and practices you came up with to alleviate stress and also deeply appreciate your emphasis on empathy. am wondering how some of what you learned could be shared with parents…? parental empathy…? lots to think about and hope your work might have a life beyond the conference… how might you share it with the current junior class along with the college counselors at your school…? maybe you should do a presentation for the juniors AND their parents…?! take care and hope you are now looking forward to college… what all the stress was about! how can you use all this info to make college more about learning and relationships and self discovery and more and less about the things that compromise that?

  6. April 29, 2018 by Michael Denning


    Thank you for doing this great work. Like the author of the last comment, Susan, I would love to explore the 9%. What made their experiences different? Let’s discuss some time.

    Great job!

  7. April 29, 2018 by Ayako Anderson

    Thank you for research and thoughtful action! What a great way to collect the word of wisdom from the current seniors and pass them onto the next generations.

  8. April 29, 2018 by Ben Snyder

    Nice job, Nina

  9. April 30, 2018 by Grace

    College stress is such a great topic because it focuses in on a specific issue and it’s something that affects a lot of us in GOA. I loved your jar of advice idea because it’s simple and easy to do but it shows you actually did something tangible to help your community AND you involved other students (outside of GOA) in your project. Very well done!

  10. May 01, 2018 by Agnes.von Reis

    This is so interesting! The chart you included about the percentage of students who felt stressed was really interesting to see. Great presentation!

  11. May 04, 2018 by Jerome Nashed

    This is great! I think this is something I need to keep in mind for next year in college as I’m sure the stress levels are going to be through the roof. This is a discussion that needs to be had because of the overwhelming amount of stress that teens are facing and you did a good job shedding light on the issue!

  12. May 04, 2018 by Grant Komin

    Hey Nina!

    This project is awesome. Super informative and I loved the graphic of statistics from the Noble students who felt stressed during the application process. I am a high school senior who recently committed to a college and going through that process, it is really difficult not to be stressed. Do you have any suggestions for how I can help my brother with this process when he starts to go through it in about a year? Great job!

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