College Health: All Guides

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College Health: General Information

group of studentsGoing to college is a very exciting time in your life! You’ll be meeting new people and learning new things. However, college can be a huge change from what you’re used to. You may be on your own for the first time in your life, having to make decisions about many issues including your health. This may seem overwhelming at first. It will take time to learn how to handle both the freedom and responsibilities of college life.

What’s important for me to know about before I go to college?

Filling out your college enrollment health form: After you have sent in your acceptance to the college or university that you will be attending, you will be required to mail back a completed health form with a record of all of your immunizations (vaccines/shots/boosters). You should receive this health form in the information packet that you get in the mail. You will need to call your primary care provider’s (PCP’s) office and arrange to have this form filled out. If you haven’t had a recent physical, you will probably need one. It’s also important to know if you have any allergies and to include this information on your health form. Your HCP’s office may be able to send or fax the health form directly to the student health center at your college.

Getting information from your Primary Care Provider’s (PCP’s) office: Call your primary care provider’s office. Let the office know what you need – your immunization record, documentation of any health problems, your medications and allergies. You should check all the medication you are taking and make a list. Along with a copy of your immunization record, you should get a list of all of the medications that you are currently taking, including the strength (amount of milligrams) and the dosage (how much of it you should take). On your record you should also list any allergies (to food, medications, or the environment), any past medical problems (asthma, pneumonia, etc.), and special needs (chronic health problems and disabilities). A record of any mental health problems and your family medical history should be included too. It’s a good idea to make a copy of all of your medical records for yourself as well. Keep this information with other important papers that you plan on taking to college.

Your immunizations must be up-to-date: Your primary care provider will make sure that your immunizations (shots and boosters) are current. You should ask your PCP if you are up to date on the meningococcal vaccine to lower your chances of getting the very serious infection meningitis (inflammation of the brain tissue). The vaccine will help to protect you against this serious disease.

There are certain shots you must have before going to college unless you sign a waiver. Check out your state’s requirements regarding the vaccine. Make sure you keep a copy of your immunization record.

Health insurance: You’ll need to make sure that you have health insurance while you are at college. Talk with your parent(s)/guardian(s) to see if you are covered under their health plan, and to discuss any questions that you have.

You should find out:

  • What type of plan you are on (HMO, PPO, etc.)
  • What the policy covers – visits to your college health services may be covered with your tuition
  • How to file claims
  • What to do in the case of an emergency

Don’t forget to take a copy of your health insurance card with you. You should always keep it in your wallet, because you may be asked to show it if you ever need urgent health care. You should remember that your parent(s)/guardian(s) will likely be notified every time that the insurance company is billed if you are on their policy. If you aren’t covered under their insurance plan, you will probably be able to sign up for your own health insurance through your college.

Prescription medicine: It’s important to get your prescription(s) filled before you leave for college. If you’ll be far from home, it’s a good idea to ask your PCP if you can get extra refills for medicine that you use on a regular basis, such as an inhaler. You should also find out the name and phone number of a pharmacy near your school and figure out how to get refills when you need them. If you can’t get refills at a local pharmacy, you may be able to use a mail order prescription system which often sends a three month supply at a time or your parent(s)/guardian(s) may need to mail your refills to you. If you have a food allergy, it is extremely important to ensure that you have your epi-pens to take with you. You should get two, one to keep in your dorm room, one to carry with you at all times.

First Aid Supplies

What should I take with me to college in case I get sick or have a small emergency?

Most college and university campuses have a student health center where you can go if you are sick with a cold, flu, need first aid, etc. However, most student health centers aren’t open 24 hours a day, and may not be open at all on the weekends. Therefore, it’s a good idea to buy a few supplies and make a home-made first aid kit to keep in your dorm room. Chances are you won’t need to use it, but if you do, you’ll be happy that you have the supplies on hand.

Your kit should include:

  • Digital thermometer
  • Adhesive bandages for small cuts and scrapes
  • Gauze and adhesive tape
  • Antibacterial/antibiotic ointment (For example, Bacitracin®)
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • An ice pack or chemical cold pack
  • Acetaminophen or ibuprofen for aches and fevers
  • Medicine for menstrual cramps (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium)
  • Allergy medicine (especially if you have itchy eyes and tend to sneeze from pollen/dust)
  • Cough and cold medicine
  • Sore throat lozenges
  • Calamine lotion

While it’s great to be able to treat minor cuts, scrapes, and colds on your own, if you have an injury that is serious or doesn’t get better, it’s important to go to the student health center or to the closest emergency room.

Staying Healthy

What can I do to stay healthy?

Eat nutritious food, exercise, and get plenty of rest.

What should I know about nutrition and eating well?

Eating well will keep your body strong and help your immune system fight off germs that cause colds and other common illnesses.

Learn to:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Try to eat 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Choose foods that are baked, steamed, or grilled, rather than fried.
  • Choose fresh foods such as steamed vegetables, fresh fruits, and grilled chicken instead of fast food or processed food.
  • Limit the amount of salt that you use. Check out food labels to see if the food you choose is low in sodium.
  • Cut down on junk food (candy, chips, soft drinks, etc.).
  • Snack on healthy foods such as popcorn, string cheese, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Drink 8-10 glasses of water or non-caffeinated fluids every day. Be aware that juice often has the same amount of sugar as soda.
  • Remember dairy products. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are high in calcium, which keeps your bones healthy. Eat or drink 3 servings a day of low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Take a daily multivitamin (with iron and 0.4 mg folic acid) and 600 units of vitamin D each day.
  • If you’re a vegetarian, get all the nutrients that you need.

What do I need to know about exercise?

Another important way to stay healthy, reduce stress, and manage your weight is to exercise. Try to include aerobic exercise, muscle strengthening, and stretching exercises into your daily routine. It’s recommended that you exercise approximately 60 minutes each day.

  • Aerobic exercises include biking, running, fast walking, swimming, dancing, soccer, step aerobics, etc. You can tell that you are doing aerobic exercise because your heart will speed up and you will start breathing faster. However, you should still be able to talk when you are doing aerobic exercise.
  • Strengthening exercises (such as sit-ups, push-ups, leg lifts, or weight training) will build up your muscles and keep your bones healthy.
  • Stretching exercises (such as yoga) will make you more flexible, so you will be less likely to strain a muscle.
  • You can also get exercise by doing simple things, such as walking or riding a bike (with a helmet, of course), instead of driving or taking the bus.

What do I need to know about getting enough rest?

You may realize that after you get to college, you don’t get as much sleep as you were used to getting. This is typical for college students, however your body needs 7-9 hours of sleep a night to be at the top of your game.

Sleep deprivation (not enough sleep) can cause you to feel:

  • Stressed, sad, or depressed
  • Tired, and you may find it hard to stay awake in class
  • Unfocused, or have a hard time concentrating
  • Sick with lots of colds and other minor illnesses (because your body cannot fight off germs as well)

Survival Tips

  1. Be confident! Set high standards! Freshman year is the foundation for college success.
  2. Buy your books as soon as you’re sure which ones are required. You can usually get a good deal on used books if you buy them early in the semester. Check to see if you need to buy them online or at the school bookstore. You can also check out: amazon.com, ebay.com, and textbooks.com.
  3. Buy a planner to keep track of homework assignments and tests. If you have a cell phone with a calendar, you can use that too. You can also set personal deadlines and reward yourself when you complete projects.
  4. Get to know your campus community. Find out where the closest grocery store, pharmacy, health clinic, and bank are located! You never know when you might need something.
  5. Safety first! Make sure you know where emergency phones are located on campus and how to contact public safety officers should you need help or an escort home.
  6. Always tell someone where you are going. For example, use a whiteboard or a post-it note and let your roommate or someone else know where you are going and what time you expect to be back.
  7. Follow the buddy rule – When going out at night, go with a friend and never leave a party alone or with someone you don’t know. When walking at night, know your surroundings and avoid looking down at your phone.
  8. Make it a policy with your roommate to KEEP YOUR DORM ROOM LOCKED at all times. Also, put away or lock up your personal belongings such as jewelry, extra cash, credit cards, and laptop because you never know who might be visiting your room.
  9. Set ground rules with your roommate. Discuss borrowing clothes, having guys or girls over, extended stays, and quiet hours.
  10. Avoid weekday parties. If you insist on partying, at least wait until your classes are done for the week.
  11. Stock your room with healthy snacks. You never know when you’ll need to eat breakfast or lunch on the go because you’re late for class.
  12. Fit in exercise every day. It’s a great way to release stress. Try a new fitness class at school or a local fitness center.
  13. Join clubs and attend school social events.
  14. Make it a habit to go to your professors’ office hours. It is a good idea to meet with them personally every so often to show that you are serious about learning.
  15. Call your parents at least once a week to check in. If you don’t live too far from home, consider taking a weekend trip home every once in a while to rejuvenate.

College Health: Health Services and Common Health Problems

group of studentsWhat are student health services?

The student health services (sometimes called the student health center, or clinic) at your college is probably the first place you should go when you have health care needs. The amount of care you can get at your student health center depends on the college that you attend. At many colleges, you can get medical care, medications, STI and pregnancy testing, advice, information, and/or counseling. There are usually medical, nursing, health education staff, and counselors available. All of these professionals are familiar with the issues that college students often face, such as stress, chronic health conditions, learning disabilities, nutrition issues or eating disorders, relationship problems, sexual health issues, alcohol or drug problems, or sports injuries. At most student health centers, you can also get a gynecologic exam. The staff will work with you to keep you healthy and respond to your questions and concerns. If you need medical care that can’t be provided to you at your student health center, ask the staff where you can go.

When should I go to the student health center?

You should call or visit the health center if you:

  • Have any medical or mental health issue that you are concerned about
  • Have a high fever (101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher) – take your temperature before you call, because they’ll probably ask what your temperature is
  • Have pain when you pee
  • Have an unusual discharge from your vagina, particularly if it has a color and/or odor
  • Have too few or too many menstrual periods
  • Have pain in your stomach or lower abdomen
  • Have chest pain, trouble breathing, or a cough that won’t go away
  • Have symptoms that make you concerned or that last for more than a week, such as vomiting or diarrhea
  • Need birth control or a test for a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Think you might be pregnant
  • Think you may have a sprain or a broken bone
  • Have an emergency such as a lab spill
  • Are assaulted
  • Are sad, depressed, anxious, or unable to sleep

How can I get seen at the health center at my college?

You can either call or go online to see when the center is open and to find out whether you need an appointment in advance or if you can just walk-in when you need to. If you do make an appointment, make sure you schedule it so that you have enough time to get there before or after class without rushing. Also make sure you have enough time afterwards in case the visit runs longer than you expected.

Should I prepare for my appointment?

Yes. Think of any questions or concerns that you may have had beforehand, and write them down. If you are taking any medications, you might just want to put them in a bag and bring them with you to your appointment, because you will likely be asked if you take any medication(s) on a regular basis, and what dose you take. Also, bring a list of any other health care providers that you are currently seeing, including your primary care provider(s) and/or specialists (providers that specialize in one area of medicine, such as an allergist). Also, if you have ongoing problems, such as chronic headaches, keep track of your symptoms and how often you are taking pain medicine. (Bring this information with you to your appointment).

Other tips on how to prepare for your appointment:

  • Arrive early so you give yourself time to settle down, collect your thoughts, and fill out any forms.
  • You may want to ask a friend or significant other to come with you to make the visit less stressful, or to help you ask questions.

Things to remember while you’re at your appointment:

  • Ask questions and voice your concerns. Don’t leave before your provider answers all of your questions and talks to you about any concerns that you may have.
  • If you don’t understand something your provider says, ask him/her to say it again more clearly. Your provider should be patient and should be willing to explain things to you.
You should receive good care at your student health center, but if you don’t, be assertive and ask to see another provider. The most important thing is for you to be happy with the care that you get.

What do I do if student health services can’t provide me with the services that I need?

The staff at your student health center will know the names and contact information of physicians, specialists, gynecologists, and mental health clinicians in the community in case you need additional care not provided at the center. You can always ask them to help you find someone qualified to take care of your specific problem. Make sure to check your insurance. If it’s a problem that can wait, some insurance companies only cover visits to health care providers within your hometown network.

What if I have an emergency?

Find out the name(s) and location(s) of the closest emergency room or urgent care center and how to get there before you need it! If you do have a problem or injury that needs attention right away, go straight to your student health center if it’s open. If it’s is not open, go to the closest hospital emergency room. The campus police at your college should be able to take you if you have no way to get there, or you’re unable to drive. If the problem is very serious and you shouldn’t waste any time, call 911 for an ambulance to come and get you.

Should I continue to see my primary care provider (PCP) once I start college?

You should continue to go to your primary care provider (PCP) or nurse practitioner (NP) for your health care when you are at home or if you live nearby. If you are away at college, you will likely go to the student health center for any illnesses. If for some reason your college doesn’t have student health services, an administrator at your school should be able to give you a list of health services/resources in the surrounding area. You can always call your PCP if you have any questions. Some students make medical appointments to see their PCP when they come home during breaks. However, if you have a chronic medical condition such as asthma, IBS, endometriosis, etc. and attend school far away from your medical specialist(s), talk to your specialist about whether you should obtain a referral to a local specialist who can manage your condition while you’re at college. Check to see if your health insurance covers health care provider visits out of network or in another state.

Common Health Problems

Why am I more likely to get sick at college?

You are more likely to catch a cold or the flu or get a sore throat when you are in college than when you are at home, even if you get enough rest. These illnesses spread quickly because so many students live together in dorms and apartments, eat together in cafeterias, and sit close to each other in classrooms. You can get these illnesses through the air when someone is coughing or sneezing next to you, by rubbing your eyes or nose after having contact with someone who is sick, or by touching something held by someone who is sick. If you smoke cigarettes or you are exposed to second-hand smoke, you are more likely to get a bad cough.

How can I prevent catching a cold/flu or sore throat?

To prevent getting these illnesses:

  • Avoid sick people. This may be hard, but if possible, it will lessen your chance of getting sick.
  • Wash your hands often and try not to rub your hands on your nose or eyes.
  • Cough into your sleeve, rather than your hand.
  • Don’t share drinks, food, or cigarettes with other people.
  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Make sure you get the flu vaccine each year.

If you do get sick, be sure to take really good care of yourself and try to avoid spreading your germs to others.

What do I do if I catch a cold or the flu?

How you treat an illness depends on whether it is caused by a virus or bacteria. Colds and the flu are caused by viruses, which you can’t get rid of quickly. With a cold you likely have a runny nose, cough and congestion. With the flu, you will usually feel achy and have a fever. You should get a lot of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and treat the symptoms with over-the-counter medicine. Always read labels to make sure you are getting the right medicine for your symptoms, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (no aspirin) for fever or headaches and nasal spray for runny nose. If you have an upset stomach, eat bland foods (cereal, dry toast, rice, or bananas) and drink clear liquids (sports drinks, water, soda such as ginger ale or diluted juice).

Strep throat and most sinus and ear infections are caused by bacteria, and are treated with antibiotics. Go to the student health center if you have a very sore throat, pain in your ears or sinuses, a persistent fever, a bad cough, or difficulty breathing. The staff there can tell you what the problem is and give you antibiotics if you need them. Most students with a strep throat have a sore throat and swollen glands and sometimes fever, but don’t have runny nose or cough.

What’s the deal with “Mono”?

You have probably heard about “Mono” (Mononucleosis), which is sometimes called “the kissing disease”. Mono got this nickname because people can pass the infection through germs in saliva when they kiss, but it can also be passed if someone who is infected shares a water bottle, toothbrush, fork or spoon, or lip gloss, etc. Some people might not have symptoms but may still have the virus and infect other people.

People who have Mono may have a combination of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Headache
  • Swollen glands
  • Sore muscles
  • Swollen liver or spleen

Other illnesses can mimic or act like Mono. It’s always best to see a health care provider and get checked out instead of diagnosing yourself.

If I think I might have Mono, how soon should I go to the student health center?

If you’ve had a sore throat for more than a week and are feeling very tired, you should go to the student health center. The only way to find out if you have Mono is to get a blood test called the “Mono spot”. However, even if you do have Mono, there is nothing you can do except to get plenty of rest, eat healthy foods, and drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration). You can go to your classes after your fever is gone but you will likely feel tired for a few weeks. Most people get better within a month, but you may need to talk with your faculty advisor or dean if your Mono symptoms are severe and are causing you to miss many classes. People with Mono should avoid contact sports, or other sports such as jumping, cheerleading, etc. for a month. When someone has Mono, there is a risk of their spleen rupturing, so it is important to see a health care provider before returning to sports. The good news is that you cannot get Mono again once you’ve had it.

How do I prevent getting or giving Mono germs?

  • Wash your hands often. This lowers the risk of getting sick or sharing germs.
  • Don’t drink from some else’s water bottle, and don’t share drinks.
  • Don’t share forks, spoons or other eating utensils.

What are bruises, sprains, and strains?

  • Bruises are injuries to the skin that cause the surface of the skin to turn purple or red in color; over time the bruise turns yellow-green and then disappears.
  • Sprains are injuries to the ligaments, which is tissue that connects the bones.
  • Strains are injuries to the muscles and tendons that are caused by too much or sudden pulling of the tissues.

If you have swelling, pain, or can’t bear weight, you should make an appointment with your health care provider or go to the Student Health Services to be checked. Otherwise, apply ice right away, rest and raise the injured body part on a pillow. Some sprains are severe and may require progressive physical therapy/rehabilitation.

What is a Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)?

A specific type of serious strain injury is called Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Repetitive strain injury includes all kinds of injuries (caused by doing the same movement continuously) to the muscles, nerves, and tendons of your arms and shoulders. You may have heard of bursitis, tendonitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome. People that use computers a lot, for long periods of time without breaks, can get repetitive strain injury.

To help prevent getting repetitive strain injury:

  • Use a lap desk or a table while using your computer to avoid putting pressure on certain muscles and nerves.
  • Your laptop or desktop monitor should not be too high or too close to you.
  • Type lightly on your keyboard.
  • If you’re using a desktop (or you have your laptop set up on a desk), sit up straight, and keep your wrists straight and level.
  • If you’re using a desktop, you should have an extender for your keyboard, so that your wrists rest lightly on it when you are typing.
  • Your chair and keyboard should be set so that your forearms and thighs are parallel with the floor. If this position feels awkward, change it, but still try to sit up straight.
  • Take breaks. Even being in a “perfect” position may cause problems if you stay in the same position for too long.

If you have any of the following symptoms, go to the student health center and get checked out:

  • Tightness or soreness in your hands, wrists, fingers, forearms, or elbows
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands
  • Clumsiness, or loss of strength and coordination in the hands

College Health: Eating and Fitness 101

dining hallEating healthy at college may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. Most college dining halls provide plenty of nutritious options and campuses usually offer a lot of opportunities for fitness and activity.

Dining Hall Dilemmas

What if I can’t find any food I like?

Be creative. If you don’t like the hot food offered, try to combine foods from different areas of the dining hall. For example, add a grilled chicken breast to a salad, or take veggies from the salad bar and add them to a sandwich or a wrap. Many colleges have multiple dining halls that may serve different foods and meals. Try all the dining halls to figure out which ones you like best. Some colleges post their menus online so you can see which dining hall will be serving what food every day.

What if I’m a vegetarian?

Most colleges offer vegetarian entrees at all meals such as veggie burgers, tofu stir fries, and pasta dishes. Create your own vegetarian meal at the salad or sandwich bar by adding protein-rich ingredients such as eggs, hummus, beans, peanut butter, tofu, or cheese.

What if I have class during meals?

Food is the fuel your brain needs to help you think, so make time to eat. If you skip a meal, you may have trouble concentrating, get a headache, or feel like you didn’t get very much out of your class. Even if you can’t sit down for a full meal, pack a healthy portable snack such as fruit, trail mix, a granola or energy bar, or a sandwich. Sometimes dining halls will offer sandwich ingredients at breakfast or boxed lunches if you are unable to make it to a dining hall during lunch.

How can I maintain good nutrition?

Try to eat a variety of foods and don’t skip meals. To get the most out of your meals, eat a balance of lean protein, high fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats such as oils, nuts, and fish. The table below provides suggestions of foods to choose at meal times.

Instead Of Try
Fried foodsGrilled or baked foods
Refined grains (such as white bread and white rice)Whole grains (such as whole grain bread and brown rice)
Whole milkLow-fat milk or soy milk
French friesBaked potato or sweet potato
Sugar-sweetened drinksWater or seltzer
Baked goods, ice cream, or other specialty dessertsFruit
Nutrition 101: The Food Groups
Food Group BenefitsNutrition Tip
Dairy & Dairy SubstitutesBuild strong bonesHave a serving of low-fat dairy such as milk, cheese, yogurt, or pudding three times a day.
CarbohydratesProvide energy for muscles & brainInclude grains such as rice, pasta, bread or starchy vegetables, such as potato or corn at every meal. Choose whole grain options as often as possible.
FatsKeep you feeling full and absorption of some vitaminsInclude some fat such as olive oil, guacamole, nuts, or seeds at every meal.
Fruits & VegetablesProvide vitamins and minerals for healthy skin, hair, nails, and immune systemTry having at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day with a focus on different colors such as apples, carrots, eggplants, leafy greens, and bananas.
ProteinsMaintain muscleTry having fish, beans, eggs, tofu, peanut butter, chicken, dairy, or lean beef at each meal.

Using campus services can also help you maintain good nutrition. If you have any food allergies, food intolerances, or food preferences, talk to your campus food services director to learn about your options. It may be helpful to meet with your college nutritionist if you’re experience weight or appetite changes.

Dorm Room Remedies

I have a meal plan, but always get hungry between meals and at night when I’m studying. What should I do?

Keep your room stocked with healthy snacks you can grab when you’re hungry, such as:

  • Brown rice cakes
  • Canned fruit in natural juices
  • Crackers (whole grain)
  • Energy (or protein) bars
  • Fresh fruit
  • Granola bars
  • High fiber cereal
  • Nut butters (peanut butter)
  • Nuts (unsalted)
  • Oatmeal (packets)
  • Pita bread (whole wheat)
  • Popcorn (try the single-serving bag)
  • Pudding
  • Soup
  • Trail Mix
  • Tuna fish

If you have a fridge, try:

  • Baby carrots, broccoli florets, grape tomatoes, celery
  • Hummus
  • String cheese
  • Yogurt and smoothies
  • Water, flavored seltzer waters, and low-fat milk

Try to have protein with each of your snacks, for example, a brown rice cake with peanut butter or fruit and string cheese.

My friends order late night pizza, calzones, and wings. What should I do?

Don’t deny yourself food if you are craving it, but try not to over indulge either. Healthy eating is about moderation. If you skip meals, you may be more likely to overeat. However, even if you eat regular meals throughout the day, you may still be a little hungry at night, so it’s okay to eat a regular portion of these foods, such as 1 or 2 slices of pizza, every once in a while.

Top 5 Healthy Eating Tips:

  1. Make Time for Meals: Eating 3 meals per day plus snacks will give you energy that will last all day and keep your metabolism active. Keeping to a regular schedule will help you fit these meals in, especially breakfast. For healthy portable snacks, packing fruit, nuts or a granola bar helps when you’re on the go.
  2. Balance Your Meals: Eating healthy meals that contain foods from at least 3 different food groups will help to ensure that you get all the nutrition you need to stay healthy. Be sure to eat different combinations of grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and healthy fats throughout the day.
  3. Don’t Forget Dairy: Your bones still need calcium to stay strong. Dairy foods and alternatives such as soy milk provide protein and vitamin D, as well as calcium.
  4. Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is important for healthy skin and organs. Drink water even if you’re not thirsty. Waiting until you are thirsty to have fluids means you are already partially dehydrated. Pack a bottle of water in your backpack or gym bag.
  5. Choose Appropriate Portions: Food portions in restaurants or takeout places are often more than one serving size and they continue to get bigger. You may not realize how much food you’re actually eating. When you’re at a restaurant, plan on taking half of your meal home or spilt an entrée with a friend. When eating at a dining hall, take smaller portions to start. You can always go back for more if you’re still hungry.

Top 5 Ways to Include Fitness in College Life:

  1. Walk or bike to class: Be active on the way to class instead of taking the bus or car.
  2. Join an intramural sport: This is a fun way to meet new people and fit in exercise, too.
  3. Go for a walk with friends: Stay fit and catch up with friends at the same time. Instead of taking a shortcut back to your dorm, take the scenic route and get in a little extra exercise.
  4. Take a fitness class as a course: This is a good way to include fitness into your routine and earn credit. Consider weight lifting or dancing.
  5. Check out your college gym: Most colleges have a gym or fitness center that offers free or reduced price memberships. They may also offer classes such as yoga, spinning, kickboxing, and dancing.
Eating well and staying fit at college doesn’t have to be a challenge. Remember to balance nutritious foods, exercise regularly, and follow the tips in this guide to stay healthy at college.

College Health: Sexual Health, Relationships, and Resources

group of studentsPeople make lots of decisions about their sexuality during college, including whether to abstain from sexual intercourse or to become, or to continue being sexually active. Other sexuality issues that decisions are made about are the gender of partners, the type of contraception to use, and the intensity of the relationships. You should never let others pressure you into having sex if you don’t want to. It should always be your decision to have sex. This goes for the first time, and every time.

What do I need to know if I’m sexually active, or if I’m thinking about becoming sexually active?

  • Before you decide to have a sexual relationship, you should talk with your partner and then decide if the decision is right for you.
  • Make sure to ask about your partner’s sexual history, including if he/she has been exposed to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Get tested for STIs such as HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, but remember – there are other STIs too.
  • Discuss whether you or your partner plan on having sex with other people. Remember, the risk of getting an STI or a virus that can cause cancer or AIDS is increased if you or your partner have sexual intercourse with other people. The more partners, the greater the risk of getting an STI.
  • The only way to completely prevent getting an STI is to be abstinent (not have sex).
  • If you’re sexually active, the best way to avoid getting any STIs is to have sex with only one person who has never been exposed to an STI, and use a latex condom every time you have sex – from start to finish. Birth control pills, injections, and IUDs do not prevent STIs. If you are going to have sex, use condoms to prevent STIs.

Talk to your partner about birth control: If you’re in a heterosexual relationship, talk about birth control options (condoms, birth control pills, hormone injections, IUDs, implants) and also talk about what you would do if it failed. If you feel that you can’t talk to your partner about these issues, then you should rethink whether or not you should be having a sexual relationship.

Go to your college’s student health center: Find out about what methods of birth control the health center offers to students, how much they cost, and what types of counseling and services are available for young women who have either a planned or unplanned pregnancy. Make sure you receive confidential, non-judgmental services.

Here are some questions to ask at the health center:

  • What happens to the bills from my visits here or from a gynecologist in the community?
  • If I’m covered by my parents insurance, will they find out about examinations and tests I’ve had?
  • What if I need birth control?
  • Can you tell me what happens with my lab test results? Who gets the results?
  • How do I get tested for STIs or HIV?
  • What if you find out that I have an STI? Will you tell anyone else?
  • What if you find out that I’m pregnant? Will you tell anyone else?
  • Is there any information that you must tell my parents?
  • What happens if I have a big problem and need help telling my parents?

Emergency contraception: If your birth control method fails, (for example; the condom broke, or you didn’t use one) you have an option called emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill”, or “EC”.

Emergency contraception (EC):

  • Can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex
  • Emergency contraception (EC) is a backup method of birth control for preventing pregnancy after unprotected sex. Even though it’s commonly called the “morning-after pill” it can actually be used within 5 days (120 hours) of unprotected intercourse.
  • Most EC works better the sooner you take it. Some types of EC (Plan B One-Step™ and Next Choice®) are available over-the-counter (without a prescription), for young women age 17 and over.
  • The brand of EC called Ella™ (Ulipristal acetate) requires a prescription from a health care provider.
  • EC is usually available from Planned Parenthood, other family planning clinics, or your college health center. Find out if it can be given to you in advance, just in case you need it.

Sexual orientation: College can be a time when some people try to figure out their sexual orientation. It’s also a time when some people decide to “come out.” Many colleges have support groups for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. There are also counselors available at your student health center if you wish to talk with someone confidentially.

Relationships and Abuse

Abuse in a relationship can be both physical and mental.

  • Your partner should never threaten you or hurt you, and should never threaten to harm or harm any of your possessions or people that are important to you.
  • You should never feel afraid of your partner or controlled by him or her.
  • Your partner should never make you feel worthless or bad about yourself.

If your partner does any of these things, get help and get out of the relationship. If your partner abuses you, he or she probably will never stop. You will be much better off without an abusive partner! You deserve to be treated with love and respect.

What should I do if I am in an abusive or violent relationship?

If you’re in an abusive relationship, you should talk to an adult that you trust, someone from your college counseling service, or call a domestic abuse hotline. These people can help you with your concerns. If you ever feel that you’re in danger when you’re with your partner, or after you’ve broken up with your partner, call 911 and explain your situation. If you break up with your partner and fear that he/she may come after you, stay at a safe place where he/she can’t contact you. You can talk to the police about what you can do to legally protect yourself from abuse.

Sexual assault: Sexual assault and rape can happen at college. You may have heard about date-rape drugs being used on college campuses. These are drugs that are dropped into your drink at a bar or at a party when you leave your drink unattended, or when you are distracted. Believe it or not, more than half of all rapes are committed by someone that the victim knows or goes on a date with. So when you are getting to know a person, be careful where you go and what situations you put yourself in.

Protect yourself against date-rape drugs:

  • Don’t drink something that you didn’t open yourself
  • Don’t share drinks with anyone
  • Don’t drink from a punch bowl
  • Don’t leave your drink some place and come back and drink from it later

Protect yourself from being sexually assaulted:

  • Walk in well-lit areas with a friend if you are out at night
  • Use the campus security escorts available at your college. Most colleges will provide an escort if you have to walk back to your dorm late at night.
  • Make sure that someone such as a friend or roommate knows where you are when you go out.

How do I know if I was raped or sexually assaulted?

The definition of rape is any penetration into your vagina by a finger, a penis, or other object that happens without your consent. It is also illegal if someone touches your vagina with his or her mouth or penetrates you anally without your consent. Keeping silent does not equal consent. Any of these things which are done without your consent are wrong and illegal!

What should I do if I am sexually assaulted or raped?

It’s important to get medical help right away. If you are sexually assaulted or raped, you should go right to the student health center or nearest hospital emergency or urgent care unit to get checked out. Someone there will help you contact your campus or town police if you haven’t already called them. Reporting a sexual assault or rape is important so that the person that did this to you will be caught and won’t be able to do it to someone else. You shouldn’t shower or change your clothes before you are examined, so that no evidence is destroyed.

Reporting a rape or assault: Many women have a hard time reporting rape or sexual assault because they are embarrassed; in denial of what happened, just want to forget what happened, or think they caused it. It’s very important to talk about all these feelings and everything that you went through with an experienced counselor. Ask who you can talk to at your college counseling center or student health center. If you need a service that your college doesn’t offer, ask for some names and contact information for counselors or groups in the community. Some colleges also offer group sessions for victims of rape and sexual assault. Also, decide who in your family or among your friends can be supportive, and talk with them as well.

If you want to speak with someone confidentially, over the phone, there are hotlines listed in the resource section. There are resources and people who can help you get through this traumatic experience. Always remember that the rape or assault was NOT your fault.
Additional Resources

College Health: Mental Health Issues

group of students

How can I develop a healthy social life at college?

Definitely keep in touch with friends and family from home, but make sure you develop new friendships at school. You’ll probably meet friends at orientation, in the first few days of school, in your classes, at social events, in the cafeteria, in clubs or sports, and through other friends. Don’t worry if it takes a while to find friends—it will happen. Your roommate(s) may become a good friend(s), or you may not click with her/them. You should talk to your roommate(s) as soon as possible about issues such as cleaning, bedtimes, music, and visitors/guests (boyfriends/girlfriends, etc.) so that you avoid problems later on. If you’re having problems getting along with your roommate(s), talk to your RA (resident advisor).

What if I’m under a lot of stress?

Chances are you’ll probably feel stressed at some point while you’re at college. College is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. You may be on your own for the first time in your life, and/or dealing with issues without your family and friends from home. This can be tough. If you’re stressed, you may feel really tired, have a headache, have trouble sleeping, have trouble concentrating, and/or feel nervous, among many other symptoms.

Is there anything that I can do to deal with the stress?

Yes. Some ways to deal with stress are to consume less caffeine, follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Also, make sure that you do something you enjoy every day. The key is to balance classes and schoolwork with friends and having fun. Try to have a positive outlook, and don’t forget to have a sense of humor!

What do I do if I’m feeling down?

There are days that you will feel down, especially when the demands of college get to you. These feelings are normal and will go away. At these times, you should take a break from the pressures of college and do something you enjoy. Spend time with friends, exercise, read a good book, listen to music, watch a movie, call a friend, talk to your family, or anything else that makes you feel good. If it doesn’t go away in 2 weeks or keeps coming back, you should talk to a counselor in the health services/center. They see lots of students who are anxious, stressed or depressed at college.

What if it’s more serious than feeling down—am I depressed?

Sometimes, feeling down can get more serious and you can become depressed. However, depression can be treated. If you’ve had thoughts of suicide, of harming others, or if you have had any of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or more, see a counselor at your student health center right away:

  • Sad mood
  • Not enjoying things that you normally enjoy
  • Sleeping problems (you sleep too much or too little)
  • Being really tired, not able to concentrate, having very little energy
  • Eating problems (you eat too much or too little)
  • Feeling that you are worthless and there’s no hope
  • Physical problems (headaches, stomach aches, or body aches) that don’t get better even after you try to treat them
Don’t try to deal with depression on your own. See a counselor! Also, if you have any friends who you think may be depressed, suggest that they see a counselor as soon as possible.

Homesickness

Is it normal to feel homesick at college?

The first couple of weeks at college may seem great, but as the weeks continue and homework begins to pick up the thrill of being away from home can get old. It’s typical to ask yourself “Am I really happy here?” It’s normal to have mixed feelings about college life and yes, it’s perfectly normal to miss your family, friends, and home. Learning ways to cope with these feelings will help you move on so you can get the most out of your college experience.

Getting used to roommates: You may or may not have had to share a room with a sibling while you were living at home, but having one or more roommates at college is a very different experience. Even if you become friends with your roommate(s), there still may be times where you feel like you have to negotiate. If you’ve tried your best to communicate with your roommate and you’re still feeling frustrated, don’t hesitate to contact your Resident Director (RD) or Resident Advisor (RA) to schedule a private meeting. It’s important to know that college campuses offer a wide variety of resources to help you solve even the smallest problem, such as mediation, or a room transfer. The environment at college should feel safe and comfortable.

Making new friends: It’s completely normal to miss your friends from home, especially the ones you’ve known since you were little! However, college is the perfect place to meet lots of new people and develop new and exciting relationships. If you’re wondering how to meet people, college orientation is the perfect start, because everyone is new – just like you. During orientation you’ll probably be encouraged to participate in ice breaker activities that will help you get to know your fellow classmates. Once you get settled, try joining a club, a team sport, volunteering, or getting involved on campus. Colleges and universities both big and small offer a wide range of activities and clubs similar to those in high school.

Adjusting to your new surroundings: It’s important to understand that by going home every weekend (if you live close), or as often as you can (if you live farther away) can make it even harder to overcome feeling homesick. Instead of making the trip home, try inviting a family member or friend for a visit. Get to know the town you’re living in and show off your new surroundings by taking your family or friends out for a sightseeing trip, a sports event, or a day trip to a surrounding city.

Some students who go to college live at home. This can create a greater challenge for making friends and fitting into your college environment. If you commute to college, remember that you can participate in all campus groups and clubs as well as make friends with students in your classes.

Other things you can do to that will help you stop the urge to go home:

  • Keep busy and fill your weekends with fun activities that are offered by your school.
  • Look forward to long weekends or vacations when you can go home for an extended amount of time.
  • Remember that in the grand scheme of things, spending time away will make you appreciate your hometown and family more than you might imagine.

Making your dorm feel like home: Your home away from home should feel cozy and comfortable. Although you probably won’t be able to paint your room, you can decorate it. Try putting up your favorite posters and pictures that remind you of friends and family. You’ll probably be spending lots of time in your room, so also make sure the environment is clean, calm, and relaxing.

Cooking your own “family” meals: You might be used to having your meals cooked for you, and you might miss the feeling of sitting down to dinner with your family every night. However, many dorms or resident halls have small kitchens for students to use. You can learn how to make some of your favorite home-cooked dinners and create a meal for your friends. You can invite a group of people and make a weekly or monthly tradition to have “family dinners”. This is a great way to get out of the dining hall and enjoy a home cooked meal with others.

Staying in touch with friends and family: Since it’s relatively easy to communicate, take comfort in knowing that your loved ones are only a phone call, e-mail, or text message away. It’s a good idea to talk with your family before you leave school about how often they expect to be in touch with you; make sure you agree on the amount of contact and who should initiate it. Try to set aside at least one day a week to call home, Face Time, Skype, or video chat. If you can’t see your friends and family face-to-face, a simple “Thinking of you!”, or “Let’s catch up this week” message lets them know that you care, and that you’d love to talk with them. Because staying in touch with family is so easy these days, some college students are tempted to text and email with parents daily or several times a day. Remember that being at college is a good time to try making decisions by yourself or with help from advisors, other students, and friends.

It’s also good to remember that your parents likely miss you a lot and want to hear from you. Sometimes parents may contact you at times that are not convenient for you. let them know when and what kind of contact you prefer.

Take advantage of the resources your college or university offers. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed that you’re missing home because you’re not alone! Find someone you can trust and feel comfortable talking to – whether it’s a friend, RA, professor, or counselor. The feeling of missing home will pass with time. Don’t be surprised if you find out that you miss college when you’re home on school breaks!

Eating Disorders

What should I know about eating disorders?

Eating disorders are mental health illnesses that involve emotional and behavioral disturbance surrounding weight and food issues. The most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders can have life-threatening consequences.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation and extreme weight loss either through restriction, over-exercising, or through bingeing and purging. Starvation can cause harm to vital organs such as the heart and brain, can cause nails, hair, and bones to become brittle, and can make the skin dry and sometimes yellow or covered with soft hair. In females, menstrual periods can become irregular or stop completely.

What is bulimia nervosa?

People with bulimia nervosa eat large amounts of food within a two-hour period of time (also called bingeing) at least two times a week and then vomit (also called purging), use laxatives or diet pills, or exercise compulsively. They feel out of control while eating, as though they cannot stop eating. Because many people who “binge and purge” maintain their body weight, they may keep their problem a secret for years. Vomiting can cause loss of important minerals, life-threatening heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), damage to the teeth, and swelling of the throat. Bulimia can also cause irregular menstrual periods.

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

People who binge without purging also have a disorder called Binge Eating Disorder. This is frequently associated with feelings of loss of control and shame surrounding eating. People who are diagnosed with this disorder may gain weight depending on how often they binge eat, and many will have all of the consequences of being overweight including: high blood pressure and other cardiac symptoms, diabetes, and musculoskeletal complaints.

What if I think my roommate, classmate, or friend might have an eating disorder?

If you know someone with an eating disorder, the best thing you can do is give them support and encouragement. Urge the person to get help, and be persistent. Many colleges have treatment programs for these conditions and trained counselors who can relate to people with an eating disorder. They can help the person with an eating disorder understand her/his problem.

What if I think I might have an eating disorder?

If you think you might have an eating disorder, you should go to the student health center or counseling center and get help! Talk with your family and close friends. Going for help and talking to others about your feelings and illness can be very difficult, but it’s the best way to get better.

Alcohol

You’ll definitely encounter alcohol and drinking while you are at college. Some students drink a lot because it is the first time there is no parent around to know they are drinking. Using alcohol or other substances may have consequences and some risks are listed below. On the other hand, if you don’t like being around people who are drinking, there are many people at college who don’t drink or use drugs. Many students prefer doing activities that don’t involve drinking, such as going to a movie or a play, going out to eat, or participating in athletic events. Many schools also have “dry dorms” for students who don’t drink or use drugs and don’t want to be around others who do. Before you make any decisions about drinking, you should know the risks.

Some of the risks of drinking include:

  • Sexual harassment and date rape are more likely to occur when alcohol is involved.
  • Violent, and/or sexually aggressive behavior.
  • Illness (or even death). Heavy drinking in high school and college can cause drinking problems in the future.
Alcohol consumption is related to the three leading causes of death among teens and young adults: unintentional injury, homicides, and suicides. It can and does prevent people from thinking clearly and making good decisions. While drinking, a person is more apt to do something that they may regret later (for example, engaging in unsafe sexual behavior).

How do I make a decision about drinking at college?

You probably know that drinking under the age of 21 is illegal and you will get in legal trouble if you are caught. Some colleges have disciplinary procedures for students who are caught drinking such as suspension, mandatory counseling, or expulsion. However, you will probably encounter alcohol at some point before you turn 21, which is the legal drinking age in the United States. Obviously, the best way to avoid drinking-related problems is to not drink at all.

If you decide to drink, it should be your own decision and not because other people want you to, or tell you to. Also, remember that if you drink more than one or two drinks, you may lose the ability to think clearly and may have difficulty controlling your body (stumbling, slurring your words, etc.).

If you do decide to drink, here are some tips to stay safe:

  • Be in control of your beverage at all times. Never put your drink down and walk away. Date rape drugs such as “Roofies” (slang for Rohypnol® or GHB) can easily be put in a drink without you even noticing. Roofies cause drowsiness, dizziness, memory loss, and other dangerous symptoms.
  • Don’t drive if you have been drinking, and don’t ride with someone else who has been drinking. Alcohol makes your judgment cloudy, slows your reflexes, and affects your vision.
  • Don’t play drinking games such as “beer pong,” “flip cup,” “power hour,” etc. People tend to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol this way. Try to count how many drinks you have had and know your limit.
  • If you feel that you have a drinking problem or if your friends are commenting on your drinking, see a counselor for help.
Be smart when it comes to drinking, and try out different activities that don’t include alcohol. You’ll see that you don’t need to drink to have a good time. If you feel that you need to drink to “fit in”, you always have the choice to drink a beverage that does not contain alcohol. If you feel funny about not drinking an alcoholic beverage, you can order a drink that looks like it has alcohol in it, but doesn’t, such as seltzer or club soda with ice.

Drugs

You may see people doing drugs at college, or someone may try to pressure you to try them. Try to remember that the majority of young adults don’t use drugs.

Some of the dangers of drugs include:

  • Many drugs, including “weed” (Marijuana) contain many dangerous and toxic chemicals.
  • Trying a drug “just once” may seem harmless, but you really never know exactly what’s in it.
  • Non-prescription drugs are illegal with the exception of marijuana in some states. If you are caught, you will likely face a large fine or time in jail. A police record can limit your career choices. Even trying drugs just once can be something that you will regret later on.
  • Drugs are frequently the causes of car crashes, falls, and suicide.
  • Continuous drug use can change your appearance, cause you to do poorly in school, make you depressed, and destroy your relationships with friends and family.
If you have a friend with a drug problem, gather the support of other friends and do your best to get him or her to go for help. The same goes for you if you develop a drug problem. Remember that drugs won’t make you happy or “cool”. The way to be happy is to do activities that you like. You can join clubs, play sports or games, go out to dinner, to the movies, or do any number of other safe activities that you enjoy.