In thousands of households across the U.S., teens who are about to become college freshmen are preparing for the transition from home to campus. They are calling their new roommates to figure out who’s bringing the futon or refrigerator, and hitting local stores with their shopping lists for bedding, sundries and supplies.
It’s just as important to have a checklist for the college freshman’s health and safety needs. Here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For Parents and Families:
- Recognize that this is a time of excitement and adventure for many young people, but also a time filled with uncertainty. Planning ahead and offering support along the way can be helpful in making the transition easier for the student as well as for his family.
- A trip to the pediatrician’s office should be on the checklist for college-bound adolescents. Your pediatrician can be a wonderful source of advice on helping your teen to transition successfully. In addition to making sure that the entering freshman has all of the vaccines and other preventive health care recommended for this stage of life, pediatricians also can help families prepare the way for their young adult’s continuing mental and emotional health.
- Pediatricians and adolescent medicine specialists can talk with college-bound teens about the risky situations they may encounter once they are away from home—and how to avoid, prepare for and manage these situations.
- Be sure that your college freshman knows where to go for emergency or urgent health care. Find the health center on campus with your teen on move-in day or sooner.
- Make sure that your teen has health insurance and knows how to access and use it. Your teen’s college most likely requires him to have health insurance, and many colleges offer plans for students who are not already covered. Many young adults can also be covered under their parents’ health insurance until they turn 26. Be sure to review the specifics of all health insurance plans available to your teen, since some may only provide limited coverage or benefits. Next semester, additional health insurance options may also be available in the new health insurance marketplace launching Oct. 1. Visit www.healthcare.gov to learn more.
- Work with your pediatrician’s office to be sure that the college or university health center has all of the necessary information about your teen:
If your teen requires prescription refills, ask the college health center how best to arrange for this. See “Staying Healthy at College.” If your teen has specific mental health needs, start working on developing a care plan with the college well before move-in day. Does your child have a mental health diagnosis, such as ADHD, depression, or an eating disorder? Be sure to ask the college health center staff what kind of medical information they will need related to your teen, and how to set up prescription refills if needed.
In addition, work with your teen to communicate with college or university staff about their accommodations for teens with ADHD and other diagnoses.
Alcohol, drugs and sexual activity may become more accessible once teens are away from home. Be clear about your expectations regarding drug and alcohol use even though your child may not be living at home. Be sure your teen knows where to go—whether on campus or locally-- for reproductive health care. Continue to have conversations about peer pressure, good decisions, and consequences. See “The Transition from High School to College.”
Once your teen is settled into the college routine, keep in close contact and try to get frequent readings about how he is doing academically and socially. This is especially important during the first month or so while teens are still trying to settle in and may not have made many friends yet.
It’s normal for young people starting at college to have days when they feel sad, homesick, or a bit lost. If these feelings persist or interfere with their ability to work, they should seek help and know that it is normal to do so. Watch for warning signs and be prepared to act. Students need to know that there are specially trained counselors on campus waiting to help and support them.
- Health insurance information
- Up-to-date immunization records
- Information about chronic health conditions
- Medication information including dosage
- Contact information for the primary care provider back home.
Advice for the Young Adult Headed for College:
Starting college is an exciting time. In addition to thinking about dorm furnishings, classes and clubs, it is also important to think about taking charge of your own health. Here are some tips for you to consider.
Before you go:
- Visit your pediatrician to be sure you have all of the recommended vaccines and other preventive healthcare needed at this time. Ask about shots for meningococcal disease, HPV, pertussis and flu. Even if you’ve had these shots before, you may need another dose or a booster shot.
- Talk with your pediatrician about coordinating your health care with your college. Many young adults continue to see their pediatrician until they turn 21. When the time comes to transition to an adult health provider, your pediatrician can help.
- If you have a medical condition or health issue, know the facts. When going to a new doctor or clinic, such as the campus health center, you will need to provide information about your diagnosis and how you treat it.
- If you are taking medication to treat a health or mental health condition, know the name of the medication, how is it taken, side effects, and if you cannot have certain foods or drinks while taking the medication. Also know how and where you will go to refill prescriptions.
- Before moving into the dorms, know where you will go if you are having a health problem. What hospitals or clinics are nearby? Where is the student health center? Where should you go if the center is closed, such as at night or on weekends? Talk with your parents about how your family’s health insurance works, and be sure you have a card from the health plan.
- Consider packing an emergency kit to keep under your bed in the dorm. A flashlight and batteries, non-perishable food and water (to be kept strictly for emergencies!), basic first aid supplies and extra medication can come in handy in the event of blizzards, storms or other scenarios in which you may be confined to your room or campus for a time.
Once you get to campus:
- Participate in activities to promote your overall health. Eating right, getting enough sleep (at least 8 or 9 hours a night), and being active will keep you feeling energized and can reduce stress.
- Take advantage of nutritious options in the college dining hall or other eateries. Be conscious of the right number of calories for you to consume to be healthy (about 1,800 per day for an 18-year-old female, and about 2,200 a day for an 18-year-old male, though active teens and athletes may require more). Be sure to get enough protein, veggies, and other nutritious foods to fuel your busy life. And keep an eye on fats, sugars, and sodium. Finally, be aware that late-night eating can add calories you didn’t plan on.
- If you have a chronic health condition, make sure roommates or someone close to you know about your health condition, signs of problems, and what to do in an emergency situation. If your problem is particularly complex or challenging, consider talking with or meeting with a health center staff member before the academic year starts.
- Studies have shown that the majority of students on campus don’t use drugs and either don’t drink or do so in so moderation. And surveys of college students show that most have zero or one sexual partner in a year. So you don’t need to engage in these behaviors in order to fit in. Drinking excessively can open you up to significant health risks (accidents, fights, date rape/sexual assault). See “The Transition from High School to College.”
- Find out what resources are available to support you. Often there are support groups and student services available on campus to help address the transition to college. It’s normal for someone starting at college to have days when they feel sad, homesick, or a bit lost. If these feelings last for more than a week or so, or are interfering with your ability to work or enjoy your college experience, seek help. The health center or counseling center is a good place to start.