Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Getting into college is a memorable milestone. By the time you receive your acceptance letter, you’ve likely already spent a significant amount of time preparing for this achievement by working hard in high school, researching colleges, submitting applications and probably a few other things in-between!
During the summer before classes start, you’ll begin figuring out where you’re going to live, what textbooks you’ll need, and other practical planning to help you survive. However, many incoming college students often miss the opportunity to think about how they will thrive once they’re on campus.
“We know that how effective and successful you’ll be as a student will partly depend on how you manage your health and wellness while you are in college and for most young people, this is the first time that this will be primarily in your control,” says Dr. Victor Schwartz, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at The Jed Foundation (JED), a nonprofit that exists to protect emotional health among teens and young adults.
So, here are four questions to consider as part of your pre-college checklist to help you feel prepared.
How am I going to make friends and have fun in college?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but many students share that the social aspect of college didn’t come as easily as they expected. There are usually a lot of activities that allow students to make friends and get involved in the campus community. During the first few weeks, look out for fairs that showcase clubs and organizations, which are a great way to meet new people and discover fun happenings on campus from sports to theater. Plan to attend and sign up for things that interest you (but remember, it’s okay if you don’t get to do everything).
Who is my social support network?
According to the Harris Poll of 1,502 U.S. first-year college students, staying connected to family and friends while you’re in college has been shown to act as a buffer during stressful times and have a positive impact on your overall well-being. On the other hand, feeling socially isolated can lead to higher levels of anxiety, loneliness, and even have an impact on your grades (JED, 2015). Before you arrive on campus, write down a list of people in your own support network to call or text if you’re feeling down. Make it a habit to keep in touch with them, even when you’re feeling good — you’ll find that it’s easier to reach out to them when you need support if you’ve been in contact with them regularly.
How will I balance everything and manage stress?
College is likely to bring on some additional stress that students have not experienced before, including academic and social pressures. While we know that not all stress is bad for you, too much of it can have a negative impact on your health, according to JED. Achieving a healthy balance of school and personal life often requires you to incorporate some “me” time into your schedule. Keep in mind that down time looks different for everyone — from spending a few minutes in a quiet space to catching up with a friend for coffee. Plan ahead by thinking of constructive ways for you to relax and unwind when the going gets tough (e.g., taking a walk, meditating, listening to music, watching one of your favorite movies). Consider putting together a self-care plan, like this one from JED’s Set to Go program, which can be a powerful tool during times of stress. You can also find tips on time management and more at settogo.org.
What resources are available on campus?
Answering this question can be as simple as visiting your school’s website and looking for basic information about the health and counseling centers, including location, hours, how to make an appointment, and costs (for both medical and mental health) as well as disability services. This way, you’re more likely to be prepared for unexpected things like spraining your ankle (and needing elevator access) or if you want to improve study skills during busy exam periods (there are usually free workshops for this), or even if you’re struggling emotionally and want to speak with a counselor.
If you’ve been to therapy before, it’s especially helpful to get in touch with your school’s counseling center to learn more about their services in case they are useful to you during the semester. This might seem like a big task, but you can start by sending a brief email to the counseling center (tip: if you have trouble finding it on the website, just Google the name of your school with the word counseling or visit ulifeline.org and search for your school).
If you’re attending a college that doesn’t have a service(s) you need, reach out to the health center and see what local resources are out there for you in the community. In case you’re wondering, requesting this type of information is completely confidential as long as you’re over 18.
Learn more about JED at jedfoundation.org and check out their programs including: JED Campus (jedcampus.org), Set to Go (settogo.org), ULifeline (ulifeline.org), Half of Us (halfofus.com), Love is Louder (loveislouder.com) and Seize the Awkward (seizetheawkward.org).