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How to Help Students Cope with Academic Pressure?

By: Ready Education on 23-Oct-2023 03:00:00
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Our student crisis series continues. Today, we will focus on academic pressure. How is it affecting student mental health, outcomes and engagement? Read more below.

What is “academic pressure”?

According to Pacific Teen Treatment, “academic pressure is defined as an experience in which a student is burdened by the demands of time and energy to achieve specific academic goals.”

Academic pressure is the often overwhelming stress and anguish that seizes students when they are expected to perform at a certain level of academic excellence. This sensation can be triggered by multiple sources, including parents, teachers, peers and even the students themselves, who are their own harshest critics. This pressure is exacerbated by the pursuit of high grades, competition for limited resources and the fear of not meeting future career goals. 

In concrete terms, how does academic pressure affect students? Academic pressure often results in high levels of stress, anxiety and depression, impacting mental health and academic performance.

Some key stats about the situation in Europe 

  • 45% of United Kingdom students report feeling stressed by their course1
  • In the Netherlands, 62% of international students often or always feel stressed. These feelings are mainly related to their studies (results) and future career prospects2 
  • In Switzerland, 57% of students have reported difficulties in their education3
  • In the UK, Only 14% of students report having low anxiety4

What are the best practices institutions can implement to support students? 

  • Re-evaluate a hyperfocus on grades: research shows that to students, academic pressure means “doing well”. Specifically, it is about securing high grades and a good CV for their first job5. What institutions can do is encourage students to take classes that interest them and expand their minds, rather than look for an easy way to get good grades. 
  • Normalise failure and negative feelings as part of the growth process: educators must guide students from their own experiences since they have spent more time navigating their own pressures, successes and failures. “Our systems can help students relieve some of the pressure by acknowledging that when we don’t do well, it’s sometimes just as much of a success on the journey of life”, David Walden, director of counselling at Hamilton College (NY).
  • Promote positive coping strategies and social connection: institutions need to make mental health support available and accessible to students, through counselling, support groups and programs that promote helpful coping strategies, work-life balance and self-care. Connection and relationships are extremely important for mental health. Creating opportunities for more isolated students to have meals with others or participate in social events can help students form positive relationships and feel supported and included. This includes making connections with faculty and staff members.
  • Offer therapy groups: cognitive behaviour therapy groups for students struggling with academic anxiety can help them understand the relationships between their emotions, sensations, thoughts and actions. 
  • Encourage professors to be flexible: faculty and staff members must acknowledge that students are complex, emotional beings who require flexibility from time to time. “We can hold students to high academic standards and also allow them some flexibility that will relieve some of that pressure and allow them to perform their best”, Colleen Conley, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the Improving Mental-Health and Promoting Adjustment through Critical Transitions Lab at Loyola University Chicago.

Do you want to know more about the student crisis? 

📢 Join our webinar on November 20th at 11am GMT. Together with our partner the University of Birmingham, we’ll talk about how to address this crisis and best support students during challenging times. Register here.

💡 For more stats and resources on the topic, visit our website


1 50 Current Student Stress Statistics: 2023 Data, Analysis & Predictions, July 2023

2 How is it going with international students at Dutch higher education institutions? 2022

3 Erudera, November 2021

AdvanceHE, November 2019

5  The Real World of College, March 2022