Preparing for College with SEL

By April 24, 2018July 23rd, 2020No Comments

Emily Kantrowitz, SEL Program Specialist

As the end of the school year approaches, high school students are moving into pivotal parts of their young lives: preparing for college. Our freshmen and sophomores are starting to narrow down universities that they are interested in and begin to prepare to take the SAT or ACT. Our juniors are starting to fill out college applications and are writing essays and collecting letters of recommendation. Our seniors are spending the next few weeks taking in everything that it means to be a high school student and preparing themselves for the next step – college.

So much emphasis is placed on academics when preparing students for college – ensuring that they have passed all necessary courses, making sure that they have earned appropriate test scores, and getting them ready for the academic rigor of college courses. But what about being socially and emotionally prepared for college? What social and emotional learning (SEL) factors contribute to emotionally intelligent college students, and what does SEL look like on a college campus?


As a college student, one must be aware of who they are and what they want. What am I good at? Where do I need improvement? How can I use my strengths (as well as my limitations) to get me to where I want to be? This knowledge is imperative for college students. This is what will drive them to select the right academic major, assist them in choosing which courses they should take, and allow them to learn from mistakes and grow from them. A lack of self-awareness during college years could prevent not only learning, but also hinder the development of problem-solving skills and positive self-esteem.


Once a college student can effectively recognize their own emotions, thoughts, and values, they must learn how to manage and regulate those behaviors and ideas. This includes managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. Goal-setting and time management are essential aspects of navigating college life, especially as students attempt to adjust to multiple academic demands. When a student develops motivation and concentration skills, this will help them overcome procrastination and allow them to develop persistence.

Social Awareness

The beauty of most colleges is how diverse they are – and with diversity comes the opportunity to take in the perspective of others and appreciate differences. During college, many students start to see that there can be differences between themselves and their peers and that these differences are to be celebrated! These differences can be academic-based (“I’m good in Algebra class, but Sally is better in Geometry”), or reveal themselves in social settings (“The household that I grew up in is vastly different from those of my new friends”). While appreciating diversity and practicing empathy does not happen overnight – the college experience certainly speeds up the process by exposing students to new people and ideas.

Relationship Skills

How many times have you heard someone say that the best friendships they have made started in college? It’s no secret that relationship-building skills flourish during these years, perhaps due to the increase of social interactions that college students experience all over campus. The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships occurs when individuals learn how to actively listen, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed. Relationship skills also develop during this time due to teamwork activities, whether that means students are starting their first part-time job and learning how to work with others, or they are assigned to work on a group project together in class. College is a community – and once students realize that they are not alone, they will be more likely to build a support system around them.

Responsible Decision-Making

In most cases, college teaches individuals valuable lessons. Sometimes these lessons are learned from others, but most of the time students learn things by identifying problems, analyzing situations, solving problems, and reflecting on those experiences all on their own. This is where responsible decision-making occurs. It forces students to decide what is right, what is wrong, and what falls in the middle. It also teaches them that when certain dilemmas, issues, or questions do fall in the middle, it’s okay to ask for help. This is the time when a person creates a moral and ethical map for themselves and further learns that choices have consequences.

Going to college is so much more than earning an academic education, passing classes, and walking out with a diploma. Some say that college is a time and place that you will truly learn who you are, what your passions are, and what your purpose in life is. Social and emotional learning begins in childhood but continues throughout one’s entire life. We must encourage our students to use college as a time to invest in themselves, both academically and through SEL!