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5 Pieces of Health Advice for College Freshmen

July 24, 2016

Millions of recent high school graduates will enter college in the fall. While parents get their children ready for this experience — from attending orientation to shopping for dorm room supplies and textbooks — there’s something else you should do to prepare your child for the first year of college: make sure they’re well-informed from a health perspective.

To help you, here are five pieces of health advice and health to-dos that I share with an incoming college freshman.

Visit Your Doctor Before You Go

Before you head to campus, make sure you have all your necessary health files, from information about your family medical history and immunization records to copies of your allergy records.

Every college freshman should visit their doctor before he or she starts school, especially if you plan to attend a university far from home. Get all your recommended vaccines, including those for meningitis, HPV and the flu. Girls should also get an annual wellness exam before the start of the school year.

For students with a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you have all your necessary prescriptions and related health records, which your campus health center may need if they must treat you. Also pack an emergency kit that you can easily access. To be even more prepared, parents and students should discuss their health insurance and what it covers. Most students may not understand the difference between in-network and out-of-network or the idea of copays, so it’s important for you to explain this to them. Also, don’t forget to make note of health clinics and hospitals nearby, in case there is an emergency.

Manage Your Stress

The first year of college — and let’s face it, every year after it — can be very stressful for students. Not only do most students leave the comfort and security of home, they also have to figure out how to juggle loads of school work with social activities, making new friends and adjusting to a new environment.

I know it sounds simple, but every college freshman should focus on getting enough sleep, eating healthy, balanced meals every day and taking a break every so often to regroup. Engage in activities that help you relax, whether it be reading, exercise or watching a movie with friends. And if you feel stressed, get help. Most college campuses offer on-site counseling centers or can connect you to local resources where you can be treated by experienced medical professionals.

Sexual Assault is a Real Danger

While self-care is important, many college students now have to deal with the possibility of sexual assault. According to recent research, 15 percent of female college freshmen were raped while they were impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Even if someone is impaired, that is no excuse to commit assault. As a college freshman, you’ll be invited to attend many parties. Make sure you go in a group and are aware of where your friends are at the event. If you feel threatened or uncomfortable, trust your instincts and leave, making sure to secure safe transportation back to your dorm (many campuses have safe ride services, for example. If not, call a cab). “Hook-up” culture is rampant on college campuses, but if you happen to be alone in a room with a potential partner, be clear about what you’re comfortable with. If the person begins to get overly aggressive, you have the right to say no or to scream for help. If you feel you’ve been treated inappropriately or sexually assaulted, seek help immediately and go to a hospital or the on-campus clinic. Doing this not only will ensure you get the best possible treatment, it also could prevent the perpetrator from attacking someone else.

Drink Alcohol Responsibly

Alcohol is more accessible than it should be on college campuses. The reality is that most people will have a drink before their 21st birthday, so I’d caution college freshmen to be careful about how much they drink and with whom.

Binge drinking can impair your judgement and put you at risk for alcohol poisoning. Never drink to the point where you’re unable to stand, especially when you’re in a new environment around unfamiliar people. Never leave your drink unattended, as someone can easily slip something into it that puts you in a compromised position. Drink moderately and be aware of your surroundings to stay safe.

Protect Yourself from STDs

College is a time when many kids begin to enter into sexual relationships. As I mentioned, “hooking up” is part of the college social environment, but that’s no reason to not protect yourself. If you will be sexually active, you must always use protection. This is non-negotiable, and you should avoid any sexual partner that doesn’t agree. One time is all it takes to contract an STD, so always use condoms or another form of protection and be careful about the number of sexual partners you engage with. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all STDs occur in people younger than 25. If you are sexually active, get regularly tested to know your status and carry condoms to protect yourself and your partner.

College is an exciting time for many young people, but it also can be filled with potential landmines if they aren’t prepared for it. Every parent should talk to their kids before they start college and share critical health information with them, particularly about sexual health. Having this conversation may make a difference in your child’s freshmen year experience.