Objective: This study investigated the baseline prevalence of general psychological distress reported by students in a regional Technical and Further Education (TAFE) Institute in Australia. In addition, the relationship between psychological distress, emotion-focused coping and academic success at the end of one semester of study was explored. Method: Three hundred and four participants (M = 32.00, SD = 13.12) completed measures of psychological distress (Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale, 21 item) and emotion-focused coping (Coping in Stressful Situations Checklist). Academic success (i.e., module completion rate at the end of the semester) was also quantified. Results: Consistent with university samples, the results suggest that TAFE students have higher levels of psychological distress when compared with normative data. Participants with higher levels of distress also reported applying emotion-focused coping strategies, and had reduced academic success at the end of the semester. The relationship between distress and academic success was mediated by emotion-focused coping. Conclusions: This study serves to increase awareness about the possibility of an elevated prevalence of psychological distress in vocational TAFE students, their self-reported use of maladaptive emotion-focused coping strategies, and the relationship with academic outcomes. The findings also suggest potential targets for intervention with this population. KEY POINTS What is already known about this topic: (1) Recent research indicates that Australian tertiary students have a higher prevalence of psychological distress than the general population. (2) Psychological distress has been found to be associated with poorer academic outcomes and the application of less adaptive coping strategies. (3) The majority of research has been conducted using university samples, and minimal research has been undertaken in the Vocational Education and Training sector, despite its prominence in Australian post-secondary education. What this study adds: (1) Consistent with research conducted in university samples, this study indicated that a sample of TAFE students reported higher levels of psychological distress when compared with normative data. (2) Higher levels of distress were associated with the application of emotion-focused coping strategies, as well as reduced academic success at the end of the semester. (3) The relationship between psychological distress and academic success was mediated by emotion-focused coping.