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There are invariably “peak” moments in the collegiate experience. In fact, favorite experiences for students (and alumni) often include move-in, homecoming, athletic events, music festivals, and participating in commencement.

Along with the heights and delights of being a part of an educational community, there are also moments that bring obstacles. Sometimes those challenging days stand alone, and in other instances they string together, creating real barriers to success.

While attending college, students face everyday medical issues like spraining an ankle or a cold, and increasingly face other issues that are more severe, like untreated depression or substance abuse. Facing a world inundated with a complex global event, an intentional focus on health and wellness has never been more important for our students. Families should wisely invest time now to prepare for inevitable obstacles to wellbeing.

You may be asking, what should we consider doing before our students head out the door to their first college class?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Explore Student Support Services: Not every college or university is created equally. Actually, nearly every institution will offer the health and wellness services they think may serve their population best for the price they can afford. As an example, while an institution near Sacramento may offer full medical services for student use with their insurance, including physicians, prescriptions, and even psychiatrists, another similar institution in the Bay Area may not offer medical services at all. As you consider institutions, ask your admission counselor for more information or take time to reach out to the health, counseling, or wellness center to get specific information.
  2. Develop a Checklist of Medical Facilities: Many health insurance companies offer “navigator” websites, assisting customers in identifying “in-network” medical providers. Take time to identify nearby preferred urgent care clinics, hospitals, and pharmacies to your student’s institution. Then, help your student by creating a smartphone note with clickable street address links and phone numbers. With that small resource, both you and they will have quick access to a host of facilities they may use when something unexpected pops up.
  3. Get Established With A Local Primary Care Doctor: Students attending college away from home often spend most of the calendar year nearby their campus, meaning their existing physician is likely not accessible except via telehealth or when they are home during breaks, if at all. In addition, students may have only ever had a pediatrician as their primary physician. Consider doing the research and selecting a doctor near where your student will be spending most of their year. Establishing care with their own doctor near campus means that they can take care of regular check-ups, vaccinations, and even the occasional sinus infection without needing to disrupt their regular schedule and head home.
  4. Find A Counselor: Let’s be honest, the college experience is tough, and our students need support. Whether students have previously availed themselves of mental health resources or not, having accessible care to maintain wellness or engage difficulties will likely be key to their success in the higher education environment. Don’t wait until “something happens” so there is a scramble to get connected. Waitlists for ongoing care can often be long, and providers who are most available may not take your insurance. Proactively help your student research, identify, and get started with a professional counselor nearby their institution as soon as possible.

Take the list above as a starting point to supporting your student through the peaks of the collegiate experience and especially the valleys. Setting them up for success early will promote their holistic well-being in the short term and throughout their life.


Jonathan has worked in higher education for 15+ years at institutions nationwide, presently serving as (Interim) Dean of Students at the Top-5 ranked University of Florida. He is also a prior first-generation college graduate and current PhD Candidate at Indiana State University.