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3 ways mental health is impacting college enrollment—and what you can do about it

Findings from our survey of 6,000+ students

June 13, 2024, By Ryan Gardner-Cook, Associate Director, Strategic Research

The prevalence of mental health challenges among young people, often attributed to social media and exacerbated by the global pandemic, is a growing concern. Our own student surveys at EAB have highlighted how these issues increasingly influence adolescents’ decisions about attending college.

Given the magnitude of these challenges and their enduring impact, it’s imperative to consider how enrollment teams can address them in the recruitment process. That’s why my team set out to learn more about these challenges and how they impact students’ decisions to go to college after high school. We surveyed nearly 6,000 high school students through our Appily platform on topics including daily stress and anxiety levels, support mechanisms, how mental health is affecting the college search process, and specific drivers of stress and anxiety when considering college.

I’d like to highlight three of the challenges associated with mental health concerns and their implications for enrollment leaders—one for each major stage of the college search process.

1) Mental Health’s Influence on Whether to Go to College

First, we know that the tendency for high school graduates to not pursue higher education (which we at EAB refer to as “non-consumption”) has grown in the past decade. Our survey findings underscore the profound impact of mental health on this issue, showing that nearly a third of all high school students surveyed have concerns about mental health that threaten to delay their decision to attend college—or could even lead them forgo it entirely. When we dig deeper into this result, we see that some student groups are impacted much more—especially transgender, nonbinary, and Black students.

Chart of mental health challenges breakdown by demographic


Other recent reports have highlighted this link between discrimination and student mental health. Students of color, LGBT students, and those from other underrepresented groups experiencing discrimination often exhibit more severe mental health symptoms than their peers. The implication for enrollment is that it’s important to customize your communication strategies in ways that speak to the varied mental health needs of the different student populations in your audience.


There’s a profound relationship between discrimination and increased distress, social isolation, and suicidal thoughts.


Brett Scofield, Executive Director

Center for Collegiate Mental Health

2) Mental Health’s Impact on the College Search Process

Second, our survey shows how the college search process can create a feedback loop of stress and anxiety, where mental health can negatively affect the search and, in turn, search can negatively impact mental health. Given that such feelings can dissuade prospective students from pursuing college altogether, it’s evident that this issue demands attention from enrollment teams.


These feelings make me shut down and not want to do any work, like applying for college or studying for tests I need for college. It also makes it hard to concentrate on the work I try to do.


Appily Student

When asked what single aspect of the college search is most stressful, a plurality of respondents (29%) marked affordability as their main stressor. The remaining majority expressed concern over a broad set of things ranging from aspects of the application process to personal challenges. For most of these, enrollment leaders can directly influence certain factors or provide valuable information to prospective students to minimize friction.

Chart that shows results for the most stressful part of the college search process.

Directly Controllable Aspects:
This category encompasses aspects of the college search process that institutions have direct control over and can actively improve. For instance, simplifying the application process or establishing clear test-optional policies can mitigate stress for applicants.

Opportunities to Communicate Relevant Information:
In this category, schools can offer additional guidance, resources, or transparency to alleviate stress and anxiety. This includes providing up-front information about likely net costs to address concerns about affordability, offering guidance on applying for financial aid, and outlining the academic preparation required for college.

Mental Health Resource Collection | EAB

3) Mental Health’s Role in Choosing a College

Last, our survey highlights a crucial trend where mental health services have emerged as a significant factor in students’ decision-making process, leading prospective students to evaluate colleges based on the mental health supports they provide. When asked what specific things they’re looking for from colleges, respondents showed interest across a diverse array of support types that fit into five categories: flexible policies, peer support, professional therapy, on-demand or crisis support, and education.

Chart showing results for what colleges could offer to make students feel more confident going to college.

While some preferences enjoy widespread agreement, such as mental health sick days, students’ needs vary widely across categories. Notably, professional therapy-related resources emerge as the largest category of desired supports, indicating significant demand for access to counseling services in various forms, albeit in different ways (e.g., on-campus, remote).


I wish they made it clear in their advertisements that colleges understand youth mental health challenges.


Appily Student

4 ways to bridge the gap in your student mental health services

The implication is that providing and advertising an array of mental health supports is now a competitive advantage. Showcase the services your school provides prominently to prospective students on your website, college search platforms such as Appily or Naviance, and other communication channels.

Ryan Gardner-Cook

Ryan Gardner-Cook

Associate Director, Strategic Research

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