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College Student Grief Facts

College Student Grief Facts

Grief isn’t about numbers or facts; it’s about people. But sometimes the numbers can make us see that we’re not alone. And sometimes the facts can shed light on the magnitude and impact of college student bereavement.

  • Between 35% and 48% of college students have lost a family member or close friend within the last two years. Between 22% and 30% of college students have lost a family member or close friend within the last year. (Balk, 1997; Wrenn, 1999; Balk, Walker & Baker, 2010).

  • 18.4 million students were enrolled in American colleges in 2009 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). That equates to more than 4.5 million college students who are grieving.

  • 8.6% of college students’ academic performances have been affected by the death of a family member or close friend within the last year (Servaty-Seib & Hamilton, 2006).

  • Research shows that a student’s GPA significantly decreases during the semester of loss, providing empirical support for the assertion that bereaved students are at risk for declined academic performance (Servaty-Seib, 2006).

  • For 10% to 15% of the bereaved, a debilitating and prolonged form of grief can pose severe long-term risks for psychological and physical health (Ott, 2003; Prigerson & Maciejewski, 2006).

College Grief Facts from Actively Moving Forward® (AMF) on Vimeo.

Articles & Research

While college student bereavement is a relatively new field of study, we’ve assembled a fairly comprehensive list of publications on the subject. You’ll also find the works of those who have experienced grief first-hand and other articles and books we think you might find interesting.


Balk, D.E. (2001). College student bereavement, scholarship, and the university: A call for university engagement. Death Studies, 25, 67-84.

Balk, D.E., Walker, A.C. & Baker, A. (2010). Prevalence and severity of college student bereavement examined in a randomly selected sample. Death Studies, 34(5), 459 468. doi:10.1080/07481180903251810.

Fajgenbaum, D.C., Chesson, B.S., & Lanzi, R.G. (2012): Building a Network of Grief Support on College Campuses: A National Grassroots Initiative, Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 26:2, 99-120

Servaty-Seib, H.L. & Hamilton, L. (2006). Educational performance and persistence of bereaved college students. Journal of College Student Development, 42, 225-234.

Servaty-Seib, H.L., & Taub, D.J. (2008). Assisting bereaved college students. New Directions for Student Services series. New York: Jossey-Bass.

Adam K.S., Lohrenz J.C., Harper D., Streiner D. (1982) Early parental loss and suicidal ideation in university students. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 27, 275-281.

Agid, O., Shapira, B., Zislin, J., Ritsner, M., Hanin, B., Murad, H., Troudart, T., Bloch, M., Heresco-Levy, U., Lerer, B., (1999). Environment and vulnerability to major psychiatric illness: a case control study of early parental loss in major depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Molecular Psychiatry, 4, 163-172.

Aitken, N.D. (1982) College student performance, satisfaction and retention. Journal of Higher Education, 53(1), 32-50.

Allumbaugh, D.L., & Hoyt, W.T. (1999). Effectiveness of grief therapy: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 46, 370-380.

American College Health Association. National College Health Assessment: Reference Group Report Spring 2004. Baltimore: American College Health Association; 2004.

Amirhoushmand, P. (2006). The effects of parental loss on the grief symptomology of young and older adults. Ph.D. dissertation, Alliant International University, Los Angeles, United States — California. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 3220825).

Bailey, S.E. (1999). Personality and grieving in a university student population. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Windsor (Canada), Canada. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT NQ52417).

Balk, D.E. (1990). The self-concepts of bereaved adolescents: Sibling death and its aftermath. Journal of Adolescent Research, 5(1), 112-132.

Balk, D.E. (1995). Bereavement research using control groups: Ethical obligations and questions. Death Studies, 19, 123-138.

Balk, D.E. (1995a). Adolescent development: Early through late adolescence. Pacific Grove, CA:Brooks/Cole.

Balk, D.E. (1995b). Attachment and the reactions of bereaved college students: a longitudinal study. In D. Klass, P.R. Silverman & S. Nickman (Eds.), Continuing Bonds: New Understandings of Grief (pp. 311-328). Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis.

Balk, D.E. (1997). Death, bereavement and college students: A descriptive analysis. Mortality, 2, 207-220.

Balk, D.E., Lampe, S., Sharpe, B., Schwinn, S., Holen, K., Cook, L., & Dubois, R. (1998). TAT results in a longitudinal study of bereaved college students. Death Studies, 22, 3-21.

Balk, D.E., Tyson-Rawson, K., & Colletti-Wetzel, J. (1993). Social support as an intervention with bereaved college students. Death Studies, 17, 427-450.

Balk, D.E., Vesta, L. C. (1998) Psychological development during the four years of bereavement: A longitudinal case study. Death Studies, 22, 23-41.

Balk, D.E. (2008) Grieving: 22 to 30 percent of all college students. In Assisting bereaved college students. Servaty-Seib, H.L. and Taub, D.J. (Eds.), pp. 5-14. Jossey-Bass, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Balk, D.E., & Walker, A.C. (2008). Prevalence of bereavement and prolonged grief in college students. Paper presented at the first annual National Conference on College Student Grief, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

Balk, D.E. (2008). Grieving: 22 to 30 percent of all college students. New Directions for Student Services, (121), 5-14. doi:10.1002/ss.262.

Barnett, M.A. (1982). Empathy and prosocial behavior in children. In T.M. Field, A. Huston, H.C. Quay, L. Troll, & G.E. Finley (Eds.), Review of Human Development, (pp. 316-326). New York: Wiley.

Barnett, M.A. (1987). Empathy and related responses in children. In N. Eisenberg & J. Strayer (Eds.), Empathy and its Development, (pp. 146-162). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Barnett, M.A., & McCoy, S.J. (1989). The relation of distressful childhood experiences and empathy in college undergraduates. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 150, 417-426.

Barnett, M.A., McMinimy, V., Flouer, G., & Masbad, I. (1987). Adolescents’ evaluations of peers’ motives for helping. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 16, 579-586.

Barnett, M.A., Thompson, M.A., & Pfeifer, J.R. (1985). Perceived competence to help and the arousal of empathy. Journal of Social Psychology, 125, 679-680.

Beam, M.R., Servaty-Seib, H.L., & Mathews. L. (2004). Parental loss and eating-related cognitions and behaviors in college-age women. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 9, 1-9.

Bemelmans, M. ( 1999). Social support, coping, religion, and bereavement outcome: A study among college students. Unpublished research report, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, and University of Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Bernat, J.A., Ronfeldt, H.M., Calhoun, K.S., & Arias, I. (1998). Prevalence of traumatic events and peritraumatic predictors of posttraumatic stress symptoms in a nonclinical sample of college students. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 11, 645–664.

Bernstein, J.E. (1977). Loss and how to cope with it. New York: Seabury Press.

Berson, R.J. (1988). A bereavement group for college students. Journal of American College Health, 37, 101-108.

Binger, C.M. (1973). Childhood leukemia—Emotional impact on children. In E. J. Anthony & C. Koupernik (Eds.), The child in his family: The impact of death and disease. (Vol.III, pp. 195-209). New York: Wiley.

Bishop, J., & Brenneman, K. (1986). An initial assessment of a counseling center’s role in retention. Journal of College Student Personnel, 27, 461-462.

Bloom, B.L. (1977). Community mental health: A general introduction. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Boelen, P., Kip, H., Voorsluijs, J., & van den Bout, J. (2004). Irrational beliefs and basic assumptions in bereaved university students: A comparison study. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive Behavior Therapy, 22(2), 111-129. doi:10.1023/B:JORE.0000025441.39310.49.

Bonanno, G.A. (2004). Loss, Trauma and Human Resilience. American Psychologist, 59, 20-28.

Boone, C., van Olffen, W., & Roijakkers, N. (2004). Selection on the road to career: Evidence of personality sorting in educational choice. Journal of Career Development, 31, 61-78.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment and Loss: I. Attachment. London: Hogarth Press.

Bowlby, J. (1980/1981). Attachment and loss. Vol. 3. Loss: Sadness and depression. London: Hogarth/New York Basic books/Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Bradach, K.M. & Jordan, J.R. (1995). Long-term effects of a family history of traumatic death on adolescent individuation. Death Studies, 19, 315-337.

Budny, D. & Delaney, C. (2001). Working with students and parents to improve the freshman retention. Paper presented at 31st ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, Reno, Nev.

Cain, A., Fast, I., & Erikson, M. (1964). Children’s disturbed reactions to the death of a sibling. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 34, 741-752.

Cobb, B (1956). Psychological impact of long illness and death of a child in the family circle. Journal of Pediatrics. 49, 746-751.

Cohen, D.A. (1996). An empirical study of college students’ grief responses: Death vs. non-death losses. Counseling and Human Services – Dissertations and Theses. Paper 35.

Collins, A.M., & Sedlacek, W.E. (1973). Grief reactions among university students. Journal of the National Association for Women Deans, Administrators, and Counselors, 36, 178-183.

Cook, A.S. (2001). The dynamics of ethical decision making in bereavement research. In M.S. Stroebe, R. O. Hansson, W. Stroebe, & H. Schut (Eds.), Handbook of Bereavement Research (pp. 119-142). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Cook, A., Oltjenbrums, K., & Logoni, L. (1984). The ‘Ripple Effect’ of a University Sponsored Death and Dying Symposium. Omega, 15, 185-190.

Cooley, E., Toray, T. & Roscoe, L. (2010) Reactions to Loss Scale: Assessing Grief in College Students. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 61, 25-51.

Corazzini, J.G. & May, T.M. (1985). The role of the counseling center in responding to student death. New Directions for Student Services, 31, 39-50.

Cousins, C. (2008). Coping-related predictors of adjustment for bereaved and nonbereaved college students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.

Davidman, Lynn. 2002. Motherloss. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Deberard, M., Spielmans, G., & Julka, D. (2004). Predictors of Academic Achievement and Retention Among College Freshmen: A Longitudinal Study. College Student Journal, 38.

DeVaul, R. & Zisook, S. (1976). Unresolved grief: Clinical considerations. Postgraduate Medicine, 59, 267-271.

Dodd, D.K. (1988). Responding to the bereaved: A student panel discussion. Teaching of Psychology, 15, 33–36.

Doka, K.J. (1985). The crumbling taboo: The rise of death education. Death Studies., 15, 39-58.

Donah Burke, A. Posttraumatic growth and mindfulness among bereaved college students. Ph.D. dissertation, Virginia Commonwealth University, United States — Virginia. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3388503).

Doucette, D.C. (1991). Relationships between mental representations of a deceased father and late adolescent adaptive functioning in a sample of college women. Ph.D. dissertation, Smith College School for Social Work, United States — Massachusetts. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 9205519).

Dunkel-Schetter, C., Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R.S. (1987). Correlates of social support receipt. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 71-80.

Edwards, S., Clow, A., Evans, P., Hucklebridge, F. (2001). Exploration of the awakening cortisol response in relation to diurnal cortisol secretory activity. Life Science. 68, 2093-2103.

Edwards, M.B. (2005). The relationship between the internal working model of attachment and patterns of grief experienced by college students after the death of a parent. Ph.D. dissertation, Texas Woman’s University, United States — Texas. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3195974).

Erikson, E. (1963). Childhood and society. New York: W. W. Norton.

Erikson, E. (1968). Identity: Youth in Crisis. New York: Norton.

Erikson, E. (1974). Dimensions of a New Identity. New York: Norton.

Erikson, E. (1980) Identity and the Life Cycle. New York: Norton.

Erickson, M.H. (1991). When a parent dies: A national survey regarding how colleges and universities assist students who lose a parent. Ed.D. dissertation, Lehigh University, United States — Pennsylvania. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 9207009).

Fajgenbaum, D.C., and Chesson, B.C. (2007). Grieving college students: The problems and a solution. Paper presented at the 29th annual conference of the Association for Death Education and Counseling, Indianapolis, Ind.

Fajgenbaum, D.C. (2007). College student bereavement: University responses, programs and policies, and recommendations for improvement. Undergraduate thesis, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

Fleming, S., & Balmer, L. (1996). Bereavement in adolescence. In C.A. Corr & D.E. Balk (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent death and bereavement, (pp. 139–154). New York: Springer.

Floerchinger, D.S. (1989). Bereavement: Applying Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development to college students.

Floerchinger, D.S. (1991). Bereavement in late adolescence: Interventions on college campuses. Journal of Adolescent Research, 6, 146-156.

Fowler, K. The relationship between self reported trauma, complicated grief, and depression among college students. Ph.D. dissertation, The Florida State University, United States — Florida. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 0821340).

Frazier, P., Anders, S., Perara, S. et al (2009) Traumatic events among undergraduate students: Prevalence and associated symptoms. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56 (3), 450-460.

Freud, S. (1917). Mourning and Melancholia. London: Hogarth Press.

Gallagher, R. (2004). National Survey of Counseling Center Directors. International Association of Counseling Services.

Gallagher, R. (2009). National Survey of Counseling Center Directors. International Association of Counseling Services.

Giddens, S. & Owen, G. (2000). Coping with Grieving and Loss. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.

Gold, J.M., Miller, M., & Rotholz, J. (2001). Grief experiences of first-year women students in the transition to college: Implications for individual and systemic interventions. Journal of the First-Year Experience, 13(2), 37-54.

Graves, K. (2009) Social networking sites and grief: An exploratory investigation of potential benefits. Ph.D. dissertation, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Gregory, I. (1965). Anterospective data following childhood loss of a parent: Pathology, performance and potential among college students. Archives of General Psychiatry, 13(2), 110-120.

Hardison, H.G., Neimeyer, R.A., and Lichstein, K.L. (2005). Insomnia and Complicated Grief Symptoms in Bereaved College Students. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 3, 99-111.

Hair, C.M. (1998). Bereavement among college students: A comparative study of the effects of anticipated death versus unanticipated death. Unpublished research report, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater.

Harris, E.S. (1991). Adolescent bereavement following the death of a parent: An exploratory study. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 21, 267-281.

Harrison, L., & Harrington, R. (2001). Adolescents’ bereavement experiences. Prevalence, association with depressive symptoms, and use of services. Journal of Adolescence, 24,159-169.

Harvey, J.H. (2000). Give sorrow words: Perspectives on loss and trauma. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.

Heidt, J. (2005). Processing Loss, Constructing Identity: Young adults experiencing bereavement in the collegiate setting. Unpublished senior thesis, Willamette College.

Hilgard, J.R. (1974). Depressive and psychotic states as anniversaries to sibling death in childhood. In L. Annel, (Ed.), Depressive States in Childhood Adolescence, (pp. 163-177). New York: MSS Information Corporation.

Hogan, N. & Desantis, L. (1992) Adolescent sibling bereavement: an ongoing attachment. Qualitative Health Research, 2, 159-177.

Hogan, N. & Desantis, L. (1996) Adolescent sibling bereavement: toward a new theory. In C.A. Corr & D. E. Balk (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Death and Bereavement, (pp.173-195). New York: Springer.

Holmes, T., & Rahe, R. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11, 213-218.

Illovsky, M.E. (1997). Effects of counseling on grades and retention. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 12, 29-44.

Janowiak, S.W., Mei-Tal, R. & Drapkin, R.G. (1995). Living with loss: A group for bereaved college students. Death Studies, 19, 55-63.

Jennings, M.L. (1996). Student counseling needs: The small urban college. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 11, 33-46.

Johnson, L.R. (1986). Growth through grief: A program for college students experiencing loss. Journal of College Student Personnel, 27, 467-468.

Kariv, D., & Heiman, T. (2005). Task-oriented versus emotion-oriented coping strategies: The case of college students. College Student Journal, 39(1), 72-84.

Kendler, K.S., Neale, M.C., Kessler, R.C., Heath, A.C., Eaves, L.J. (1992). Childhood parental loss and adult psychopathology in women. A twin study perspective. Archives of General Psychiatry, 49, 109-116.

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Kendler, K.S., Sheth, K., Gardner, C.O., Prescott, C.A. (2002b). Childhood parental loss and risk for first-onset of major depression and alcohol dependence: the time decay of risk and sex differences. Psychological Medicine, 32, 1187-1194.

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Klass, D. (1988). Parental grief: solace and resolution. New York: Springer.

Knox, D. (2007). Counseling students who are grieving: Finding meaning in loss. In J.A. Lippincott, & R.B. Lippincott (Eds.), Special Populations in College Counseling: A for Mental Health Professionals, (pp. 187-199). Alexandria: American Counseling Association.

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Plotsky, P.M., (2000). Long-term behavioral and neuroendocrine adaptations to adverse early experience. Progress in Brain Research, 122, 81-103.

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LaGrand, L.E. (1985). College student loss and response. In E.S. Zinner (Ed.), Coping with death on campus (New Directions for Student Services, No. 31, pp. 15-28). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Larson, D.G. (1993). The helper’s journey: Working with people facing grief, loss, and life threatening illness. Champaign, IL: Research Press.

Lawrence, E., Jeglic, E.L., Matthews. L.T., & Pepper, C.M. (2005-2006). Gender differences in grief reactions following the death of a parent. Omega, 52, 323-337.

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Neimeyer, R.A., Laurie, A., Mehta, T., Hardison, H. & Currier, J.M. (2008). Lessons of loss: Meaning-making in bereaved college students. In H. Servaty-Seib and D. Taub (Eds.), Assisting bereaved college students. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Nerken, I.R. (1993). Grief and the reflective self: Toward a clearer model of loss resolution and growth. Death Studies, 17, 1-26.

Nicolson, N. (2004). Childhood parental loss and cortisol levels in adult men. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 29, 1012-1018.

Noppe, I.C., Linzmeier, E., Martin, R., Wisneski, M., & Servaty-Seib, H.L. (2008, August). Forging a pathway through college during bereavement and grief: Findings of the National College Student Grief study. Paper presented at the first annual National Conference on College Student Grief, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

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Prigerson, H.G., Frank, E., Stanislav, V.K., Reynolds, C.F., Anderson, B., Zubenko, G.S., et al. (1995). Complicated grief and bereavement-related depression as distinct disorders: Preliminary empirical validation in elderly bereaved spouses. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, 22-30.

Prigerson, H.G., Birthals, A., Kasl, S., Reynolds, C., et al. (1996). Complicated grief as a disorder distinct from bereavement-related depression and anxiety: A replication study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153,1484.

Prigerson, HG., Maciejewski, C.F. (2006). A call for sound empirical testing and evaluation of criteria for complicated grief proposed by the DSM V. Omega, 52, 9-19.

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Rando, T. (1984). Grief, Dying, and Death: Clinical Interventions for Caregivers. Champaign, Ill.: Research Press.

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Reif, L.V., Patton, M.J. & Gold, P.B. (1995) Bereavement, stress, and social support in members of a self-help group. Journal of Community Psychology, 23(4), 292-306.

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Rings, J. Perceived closeness to the deceased and its predictive effect on the development of prolonged grief disorder and suicidality among bereaved college students. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Denver, United States — Colorado. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text.(Publication No. AAT 3372489).

Ritholz, M.D. (1986). The relationship between early parental death and college students’ self-esteem and social/academic competences (adjustment). Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Wisconsin- Madison, United States — Wisconsin. Retrieved from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 8601854).

Roy, E.T. (1986). Treating the grieving student. In J.E. Talley & W.J.K. Rockwell (Eds.), Counseling and psychotherapy with college students: A guide to treatment (pp. 64 -86). New York, N.Y.: Praeger.

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Saler, L. & Skoinick, N. (1992). Childhood parental death and depression in adulthood: Roles of surviving parent and family environment. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 62(4), 504-516.

Samuolis, J., Layburn, K., & Schiaffino, K.M. (2001). Identity development and attachment to parents in college students. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 30, 373–384.

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