At one time, any reference to school anxiety was made with respect to the young child going to school or daycare for the first time. Often, the issue was that the young child experienced anxiety in being left behind parents, having to interact with strangers, and being uncertain about the whole experience. Often, the advice given to parents is to take their child to the school or facility ahead of the start date, so that the child becomes acquainted with the staff and accustomed to the new environment in which he or she would be.  The parent, leaving the child and then returning, would also help the child deal with this new environment.  Many of the uncertainties could be removed by the time that the child actually starts school.

High School Students

However, when it comes to high school and university students, while anxiety is brought on by uncertainty, it is a different kind of uncertainty.  Young people are more independent. Their anxieties are often related to uncertainty of how they would fit into the school setting, whether they would make new friends, how friendly and accepting the new environment will be, and whether they will be able to cope with the school work that they are assigned.  In high school, students may be more concerned with friendships, with being accepted, and not being bullied. Being popular becomes very important in high school, with students hoping to be part of the in-group and not considered a nerd.  There is also the fear of being labelled as sexually non-conforming or deviant, which is a major issue for high school students who may not be heterosexual, or who may be just trying to figure out their sexual identity.  Fear of school work being a challenge may not be a serious issue for high school students, although there is a relatively high drop out rate in some communities.

University Students

Many university students experience anxiety as many of them may move away from their communities to attend university.  This means that they are physically cut off from family and friends and may feel totally along in their new environment. This is particularly the case for foreign students, many of whom are not particularly fluent in English.  Other students entering university are uncertain about their living conditions, even when they live in dormitories.  They may feel uncertainty over fitting into the university community, while others want to join the right clubs, fraternities and sororities.  For some university students, becoming part of a sorority or fraternity is crucial, and this sometimes exposes the young person to difficult situations. Hazing is a practice that takes place on many campuses in North America, and in some cases, this could expose the young person to harm.  While these situations may not appear critical to many students trying to fit into the university setting, it is a real concern to parents and should be to most students.  Uncertainty leads to anxiety and this anxiety could become so intense that students develop mental health difficulties.  Other concerns that some university students may experience include feelings of inadequacy with being able to cope with the academic work, and not being able to earn the grades that would allow them to excel and remain in school.  Many of these students have concerns about failing.  Anticipating their first tests could also cause a lot of anxiety for some students.

Some Ways of Coping

These are all experiences that some high school and university students experience.  However, there is hope.  Students, whether high school or university, would feel uncertain about the experiences they would face, but maintaining a close support group with which to communicate is important.  Have someone with whom to share your experiences. Maintaining contact with parents, siblings, and friends, regardless of distance, allows students to have some place to express and vent their feelings, when this is necessary.  In most school settings, there are clubs and organizations that focus on helping new students to adapt, and this is one of the important places with which students should make contact, as they would find people there who are likely to have a sympathetic and understanding ear. In many cases, the people in some of these associations are older students who have experienced anxieties fitting in and are there to help make the way easier for new students. Therefore, find out about the different clubs and organizations in your institution.  There are often staff contacts that also reach out to students who may be having difficulty adjusting.  Take advantage of the support.  Pay attention to fraternities and sororities that may require unusual or unacceptable behaviour to become a member.  Recognize that having to carry out some of the unusual tasks for membership could put a student in harm’s way and avoid it. In other cases, these are fine organizations to which to belong.  However, no membership is worth the danger or to make you feel uncomfortable.  Also, take time to adjust. Remember that it will take time for you to make friends and adjust to the new routine in high school or university.  Therefore, take time. In the meantime, pay attention to the requirements of your courses, keep up with your readings, and mark due dates for assignments, so that you are not overwhelmed at the end.  Following these ideas would help to reduce some of the anxieties you may be experiencing. Remember, mental health is very fragile, so speak to others and seek out help when you feel overwhelmed.

For more information on how to prevent school dropout and school failure, read the ebook or paperback, Preventing Drop Out and Overcoming School Failure at  Share the ideas with your friends and acquaintances and continue reading our blog at

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