Emotional Intelligence: 5 Practices for College Students

December 17, 2021

The benefits of a college education extend far beyond academics.


Of course, your studies (and grades) are important. But there’s more to a successful career — and a satisfying life, for that matter — than test scores or the content of your degree program.


How do you respond to criticism from a coworker? How well do you manage the stress of life? How will you navigate a fight with a friend or your significant other?


You’ve probably heard of IQ, or intelligence quotient — a standardized measurement of raw intelligence. Yet IQ doesn’t give the full picture.


Enter emotional intelligence (also called emotional quotient or EQ for short). Psychology Today defines EQ as “the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.”


Harvard Health further explains emotional intelligence based on four components:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Social awareness
  • Conflict management skills


In general, emotionally intelligent people are savvy in social situations and relationships as well as skilled in recognizing and managing their own emotions.


The best news is that emotional intelligence can be cultivated and strengthened over time. All it takes is effort and intention to learn and grow.


Better yet: College provides the perfect setting to start cultivating emotional intelligence. High EQ will help you be a more mature, successful student and prepare you for healthy relationships, both personally and professionally.


Here are five practices to implement on your journey toward greater emotional intelligence.



1. Identify Your Emotions

Emotions are valuable messengers, alerting us to what’s happening inside.


Think of a car dashboard. If there’s an issue with the engine or the tire pressure is low, an icon will flash to get your attention. If you ignore the notification, you’ll eventually experience a breakdown.


Your body is a sophisticated system, with your emotions functioning as “flashing lights” to let you know your current status, whether positive or negative. Ignoring or avoiding emotions won’t make them go away, at least not in the long run.


The first step to boosting your emotional intelligence is to develop awareness of your emotional state. Identifying or naming your emotions — the full range, including the negative feelings — gives you greater ability to understand, manage, and respond appropriately to that emotion.


Not sure how to start? Try using a feeling wheel as a visual tool to give you language to pinpoint what specific emotions you’re experiencing.
Practice being mindful of your emotions and feeling them without judgment. Realize that all emotions are real and valid, but they don’t necessarily reflect objective reality.


No matter how strong or difficult the emotion, remember that your emotional state can and will change. While you cannot change your emotions in the moment, you can shape them over time by your thoughts. The good news is you have great power over your thinking!


“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2 (NIV)

For Further practice identifying your emotions, add some of these activities to your weekly routine:

  • Practice Journaling
  • Pay attention to your thoughts
  • Read the Psalms (Try Psalm 13)
  • Prioritize prayer
  • Take a walk


Additionally, don’t hesitate to research what type of counseling services are available at your college or university. Meeting with a licensed therapist or pastor is an excellent way to explore your emotions and receive truth, tools, and healing.


2. Manage your stress

There’s no shortage of stress, especially for college students … with homework, exams, relationships, jobs, internships, and the unknowns of your future.


When you feel the pressure building, it’s important to put in place healthy stress management practices. Before acting on a strong emotion, think about not only the short-term but also the long-term consequences to your decisions.


For example, eating an entire large pizza by yourself might buy you some temporary relief or distraction, but think about how you’ll feel in a few hours. Compounded over time, this decision will negatively affect your health.


Instead of opting for instant gratification, such as overeating or scrolling on TikTok, make a list of healthy and helpful activities to help you de-stress. Here are a few ideas:

  • Take a 15-minute brain break
  • Listen to your favorite playlist
  • Read a fiction book
  • Make a to-do list
  • Practice gratitude 
  • Do something physically active
  • Call someone you love
  • Bake or cook with friends
  • Volunteer or serve others


3. Cultivate meaningful relationships

Emotional intelligence extends beyond yourself to include your social interactions, friendships, and romantic relationships. It’s crucial to have a support system of people who know you and love you. 


Even one or two close friendships will make a big difference. It may be tempting to isolate yourself when you’re having a hard day or season. Of course, it’s OK to take some time to yourself, but it’s wise to reach out to a trusted friend or family member, when you’re ready.


The secret to cultivating fulfilling relationships is to first be a good friend yourself. Consider these social etiquette tips:


  • Take an interest in other people. 
  • Ask questions. 
  • Serve. 
  • Show support. 
  • Send a text message or voice memo to say hello. 
  • Plan get-togethers. 
  • Laugh (or cry) together. 
  • Apologize when you’re wrong. 


These simple practices will help you develop greater empathy, which is the ability to understand and identify with another person’s point of view and emotions. Empathy is the glue that connects you to others.

4. Develop social awareness

Beyond your closest relationships, functioning well in the world means knowing how to navigate social situations and your surroundings.


In college and beyond, you’re going to interact with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Take the time to know and understand your classmates, roommates, professors, and coworkers as individuals. 


Set aside any stereotypes and keep an open mind in your interactions, honoring and assuming the best about people. Giving someone your full attention and listening actively are great practices that foster empathy and mutual respect. 


During disagreements or conflict, learn to ask questions rather than trying to win an argument at any cost. Seek to understand differing ideas and opinions, but remember that you have the ability to disengage during an unhealthy argument. 


It’s also important to establish and respect physical and emotional boundaries. Nobody needs to be available all the time.


Clearly communicate expectations and preferences in your relationships. Learn when to say “no.” Protect your time, privacy, and emotions and extend the same courtesy to others in return.

5. Practice forgiveness

Forgiveness is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s a decision and also a process.


When you’ve been hurt or wounded in some way, it’s natural to feel anger and sadness. The problem comes when you allow anger to grow into bitterness and resentment. At this point, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.


There’s a common saying that goes something like this: Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.


That’s why forgiveness is crucial; it leads to personal restoration, healing, and wholeness — mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 


“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)


Forgiveness is possible because of Jesus. When you extend forgiveness, it’s the main way you model the love and life of Christ. 


Here are a few tips when it comes to practicing forgiveness:


  • Acknowledge what happened and process (rather than deny or minimize) your pain.
  • Reflect on the mercy, love, and forgiveness of God.
  • Receive the forgiveness that Christ purchased for you on the cross.
  • Decide to let go of your pain and quit rehearing the offence.
  • Determine whether reconciliation is appropriate.
  • Maintain your decision to forgive whenever old memories resurface.


Choosing a lifestyle of forgiveness is one powerful way to boost emotional intelligence. You’ll be free from past offenses and emotionally available to nurture the relationships in your life that mean the most.


Who do you need to forgive? (Don’t forget about yourself … and God, too.) Whoever comes to mind, start today.

It’s a journey.

Just like forgiveness, developing emotional intelligence is a journey. Take one step at a time. If you start now while you’re in college, you’ll be setting yourself up for a meaningful, successful, and satisfying life.