A Guide to Social and Emotional Learning in Higher Education

A Guide to Social and Emotional Learning in Higher Education

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Emotional intelligence is an essential skill for success in both personal and professional settings. Educators play an important role in helping students develop their emotional intelligence. One way to do this is by incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) in your curriculum. In this blog post, we will explore the importance of emotional intelligence, the benefits of developing it in higher education, and practical ways to incorporate SEL in your academic and personal life.

Understanding Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to understand and manage emotions in oneself and others effectively. 

It consists of five key components: 

  • self-awareness, 
  • self-regulation, 
  • motivation, 
  • empathy, 
  • social skills. 

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your emotions and how they impact your behavior. Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively. Motivation is the drive to achieve personal and professional goals. Empathy is the ability to understand and share others' emotions and perspectives. Social skills refer to the ability to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and build positive relationships with others.

There is substantial evidence from hundreds of independent studies across various fields and sources supporting that SEL leads to a range of beneficial outcomes, such as improved social and emotional skills, academic performance, mental wellness, healthy behaviors, school climate and safety, and lifetime outcomes.

What is Social and Emotional Learning?

Social emotional learning (SEL) is a process that empowers students with the knowledge and skills necessary to manage emotional stress effectively, develop positive relationships with others, and make responsible decisions. Through SEL, students learn to understand and manage their emotions, which ultimately enhances their problem-solving abilities. By promoting self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, SEL helps students cultivate a healthy sense of self, which in turn leads to success in academics and personal life.

The Benefits of Emotional Intelligence in Higher Education

Research shows that emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in academic success and personal well-being. Students with high emotional intelligence tend to have better academic performance, higher graduation rates, and lower dropout rates. They are also less likely to experience stress, anxiety, and depression. Social and Emotional Intelligence is also crucial for developing positive relationships with peers, professors, and colleagues, which is essential for success in personal and professional life.

Improved Academic Achievement

SEL have a positive impact on students' academic achievement. Students who participate in SEL have higher grades, test scores, attendance, and homework completion rates.

Better Mental Wellness

SEL programs contribute to healthy well-being and safe schools by cultivating important "protective factors" that buffer against mental health risks. Participation in SEL programs is linked to decreased emotional distress, more positive attitudes about self and others, and fewer externalizing behaviors and discipline problems.

Development of Social and Emotional Skills

SEL interventions build social and emotional skills that increase student engagement and lead to improved academic performance. Students who engage in SEL programs see consistent improvements in social and emotional skills, which contribute to positive lifetime outcomes up to 18 years later.

Improved School Climate and Safety

SEL programs contribute to a sense of safety and support, better relationships with teachers, and stronger feelings of belonging and inclusiveness in schools. SEL also leads to reductions in bullying and aggression.

Effective Across Cultural Contexts 

SEL is consistently effective across demographic groups, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, and urban, suburban, and rural communities both inside and outside the United States.

Positive Impact on Adults

Focusing on educator social and emotional competence can improve teacher well-being, job satisfaction, and reduce burnout. Teachers who teach SEL to students report feeling more effective at their jobs and lower levels of job-related anxiety.

Wise Financial Investment

Analysis of evidence-based programs has demonstrated that the benefits of SEL significantly outweigh the costs, estimating for every dollar invested in SEL there is an $11 return.

5 stress release activities for college students

Adjusting to the challenges of higher education can introduce new tensions and increased levels of pressure. In this context, we present a few activities on social-emotional learning that assist students in anticipating and gaining a better understanding of possible stressors, thereby enhancing their ability to cope with such situations.

1. Stress release breathing: 

Instruct students to take a few minutes to close their eyes and focus on their breath, breathing deeply and slowly. Encourage them to imagine breathing in calmness and relaxation and exhaling tension and stress. This exercise helps students to slow down and regulate their breathing, providing a sense of calm and control. It can be done in class or during breaks, and students can continue to practice it outside of the classroom whenever they feel stressed.

2. Gratitude journal: 

Encourage students to keep a gratitude journal where they can jot down things they are grateful for on a regular basis. This practice helps students focus on the positive aspects of their lives, even during times of stress, and can improve their overall well-being. Remind students to share their gratitude journal entries with their support network as a way to build and maintain positive relationships.

3. Feel the Emotion: 

In this activity, ask students to close their eyes and think about how they're feeling at that moment. They should try to name the emotion they're experiencing and share it with a partner or small group. This exercise helps students develop emotional awareness and communication skills, as well as empathy for others. For online classes, use video conferencing tools or chat rooms to allow students to connect with their peers and engage in the activity.

4. Write & Discard

Ask your students to take a few minutes to write down their worries and fears about the upcoming exams. Then, instruct them to crumple up the paper and throw it away. This activity not only helps students acknowledge and label their emotions but also teaches them to let go of their worries and focus on the present moment.

5. Goal setting

Ask students to identify a personal or academic goal they want to achieve during the semester. Have them write down the goal and a specific plan for achieving it. Encourage them to break down the goal into smaller, achievable steps and to identify potential obstacles and strategies for overcoming them. Periodically check in with students on their progress toward their goals and provide support and resources as needed. This activity can help students develop a growth mindset and increase their motivation and self-efficacy.


Incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) in higher education is essential for developing emotional intelligence, which is crucial for personal and professional success. SEL helps students understand and manage their emotions, improve academic performance, and develop positive relationships. The activities above can help learners of all ages become more aware of their emotions’ impact.

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