Starting college is one of the most exciting times in a teen’s life — and the most stressful.
Between unpacking boxes, meeting new roommates and learning their way around campus, taking care of their mental and physical health may be the last thing on a student’s mind.
But inevitably, bad things happen. And it pays to be prepared.
“Being sick, depressed or lonely is already stressful — and adding the layer of being in a brand new place away from your parents for the first time can feel completely overwhelming to a teenager,” says Katie Garrett, founder of Garrett Educational Consulting. “Fortunately there are a few proactive steps your student can take to make things easier for them down the road.”
Here are a few tips from the pros about the first five things your student should do when they arrive on campus:
Visit the health center
Most colleges have an on-campus health center that provides in-person and online doctor visits, a pharmacy, immunizations and more to currently enrolled students. Encourage your child to locate the health center on a map and find out the process for getting an appointment. For example, many colleges encourage students to log into an online health portal to fill out all necessary forms before their first visit.
“If your student can register in advance at the health center, it will save them lots of time and stress when they’re actually sick”
It’s also a good idea to make sure your student has a copy of pertinent medical documents including your health insurance card. Even though many student health centers don’t charge fees (because a mandatory health fee is included in tuition), this info could be vital if your child ends up needing additional care like a specialist.
Business Manager Martha Anne Krisko says if you’re using your own health insurance, you may want to update your child’s address with your health insurance company.
“You can waive the school policy by proving your own coverage, but ours for example would have covered him at out-of-network rates,” Martha Anne says. “By updating his address, he stays on the policy and gets home network benefits where he lives, and also gets home network benefits in North Carolina since we live here.”
If your student is on any kind of prescription medicine, they’ll also need to make sure they update their pharmacy to one in their college town (or change their address if their prescriptions are mail-ordered).
Register at their college’s counseling and psychiatric services
Many campuses’ health centers offer mental health services, while others have a dedicated counseling and psychiatric center.
But often, students will need a “triage appointment” before they can speak to an actual counselor. And if they’re in crisis, time is a factor. If your student has dealt with mental health challenges in the past, encourage them to go ahead and make a triage appointment early so they can utilize the counseling services later.
“Everyone has a hard time occasionally, and these services are there for everyone,” Katie says. “Even if you never need it, at least you’ll be in the system and have it out of the way.”
Learn more about other support services on campus
In addition to general mental and physical health services, your child’s college likely offers additional, more specific support services.
“Many schools now have a writing center, peer tutoring and more available for all students,” Katie says. “Many posts I see on the message boards are people looking for tutors. Let your kids know that they may need help and that it’s OK — and common.”
Katie says taking the time to help your student learn everything that’s offered at their school could make a big difference in the future.
Locate all your classes before the first day
It may seem minor, but this easy step of preparation can save your student some major stress on their first day of classes.
“The first day can be overwhelming,” Martha Anne says. “I dropped a class my first semester freshman year because I couldn’t find the building and I missed the class — and I was too embarrassed to try again.”
Make finding classes a fun activity for your student and their friends to do together. It could become a fun yearly tradition that ends with a celebratory ice cream run, for example.
Your student won’t get acclimated to campus by sitting in their dorm room for the first two weeks. Encourage them to get involved with many social and academic activities to make new friends and learn their way around campus.
“Many schools have activities and fairs throughout the few days leading up to class,” Katie says. “It is a great way to find things to get involved with on campus. There may also be social activities designed to acclimate a freshman to campus and encourage meeting new friends — I highly recommend participating.”
The bottom line: Setting your student up for success in college is all about advance preparation, setting expectations and using the resources available to them.
“As a parent, it’s comforting to know when you leave your student on campus, they have as many tools as possible for when things get tough,” Katie says. “These are also important skills that will serve them long after graduation day.”
Need more advice? GEC makes college admissions a breeze. Call Katie at GEC at 980-677-0311 or email her at [email protected].
Garrett Educational Consulting, LLC is a full-service, academic consulting firm based in Charlotte, North Carolina. With more than 20 years of experience in education and counseling, Katie Garrett guides and supports students and families that are navigating important academic decisions. Services include all aspects of academic advising, comprehensive college planning, independent day school consulting, and boarding school application guidance.