Going 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, 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 are treated for an allergy that can cause an anaphylactic reaction, it is extremely important to ensure that you have your epi-pens to take with you to college. 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 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®)
- 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
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.
- 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 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)
- Be confident! Set high standards! Freshman year is the foundation for college success.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Always tell someone where you are going. For example, use a whiteboard or a post-it notes and let your roommate or someone else know where you are going and what time you expect to be back.
- 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.
- 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 go in your room.
- Set ground rules with your roommate. Discuss borrowing clothes, having guys or girls over, extended stays, and quiet hours.
- Avoid weekday parties. If you insist on partying, at least wait until your classes are done for the week.
- 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.
- 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.
- Join clubs and attend school social events.
- 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.
- 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.