Your recent high school graduate is about to take on a new journey and become a college freshman. You are excited and happy for them, but there are also many concerns that come to mind. It might be their first time being away from home for a long period of time. You are thinking: “Will my kid be safe and healthy? Who will make sure that they are sleeping and eating well? Will they be able to deal with all the stress and manage to get good grades too?”
Your student is about to face many new challenges and transitions. They are still growing mentally and physically, while also having to manage new school and work loads, relationships, stress, adjustment to new environment and being away from home. During this time of fundamental changes, it’s important for college freshmen to take care of themselves and be prepared to take responsibility for their health.
How can you help your freshman take care of their health on campus?
Support your new college kid in pursuing a healthy lifestyle and provide them with resources to do so. It’s an exciting time in their life, and they need your attention and care as they step into adulthood.
Check out these 15 essential college health tips to get your freshman ready for school:
1. Prepare all necessary healthcare paperwork.
Be sure to check with the college to see what documents are required. For most colleges, this includes medical records of allergies, prescription medication, immunizations and physical exams. Most schools will require a routine physical exam within the past 12 months.
2. Make sure you have appropriate health insurance.
Check that your health insurance covers providers in the school’s clinic and in the college area. You may also look into purchasing the school’s health plan if that would work better for you.
3. Get your immunizations up to date.
Each state has different vaccination requirements, so confirm the immunizations you’ll need with your school’s health center. Most colleges will require your student to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, chickenpox, meningitis, hepatitis B and have a tetanus booster if your last one was more than 10 years ago. It’s also a good idea to get vaccinated with seasonal flu shots often offered through the student health center.
4. Arrange your emergency contact information.
Provide your student and the school’s dorm staff with all the phone numbers and contacts they might need. Make sure they know your doctor’s contact information and have a way to access the student’s health records in case of any medical emergency.
5. Learn about the school’s student health center.
Most colleges have a campus health clinic that offers some services for free alongside other care that can be covered by insurance. These clincs are typically staffed by nurses, nurse practitioners with limited physician hours. Be sure your student knows what services are available on campus, clinic hours and whether appointments are needed.
6. Explore the school’s counseling options for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Most schools offer free counseling services to students. Knowing how to access these opportunities is important for your new undergrad if they ever need help managing stress, anxiety, homesickness, nervousness, or are going through a tough time. A conversation with a trusted expert can be beneficial.
7. Keep a first aid kit in the dorm room.
Make sure it has the following items: ibuprofen or other painkillers, thermometer, band aids, gauze bandages, alcohol pads, cough drops, sore throat lozenges, antibiotic ointment, calamine lotion, allergy medicine, cold medicine, flu medicine, and any other standard medication that your student should be taking.
8. Make it easy and convenient to eat well.
Food is medicine, and our health starts with our diet. Help your student create a healthy shopping list that will help them make good choices at the grocery store. Stock the dorm room with healthy snacks. Check out meal delivery services like HelloFresh or Blue Apron, which can deliver original healthy recipes and fresh ingredients right to the dorm. Encourage your student to practice portion control, especially when it comes to the late night munchies and fast food.
9. Prepare your freshman to be smart in the dining hall.
Learn about the school’s dining hall and meal plan options to make the most out of everything that’s available. Many college cafeterias are buffet style and will allow students to grab as many apples and bananas to-go as they can carry. Encourage your student to always have some fruit and vegetables with their meal. The more color on the plate, the better.
10. Mail healthy care packages.
Avoid sending your new college student care packages filled with unhealthy chips and crackers that are just empty calories. Fill your care package with home baked goods and healthy organic snacks instead. It’s also a good idea to mail a “comfort kit” with some vitamins, tea, thermometer and other necessary things if they get sick.
11. Get a nice water bottle to carry everywhere.
Having a water bottle for your student to refill any time can really boost water intake. A large Nalgene water bottle is great to carry around and sip on throughout the day. Also check out brands like Hydroflask or Klean Kanteen for durable insulated water bottles that will keep your drink just as cold or hot as you like for up to 24 hours.
12. Support your student in developing healthy sleep habits.
Young adults (18- to 25-years-old) typically need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. It’s vital that your new freshman gets that time to rest in order to perform well at school, be in a good mood and stay healthy.
13. Come up with ideas on how to be active in everyday activities.
Talk with your student about what they can do to keep moving and get exercise even in their busiest days. Encourage them to go for the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to class instead of driving and take quick walks or stretch breaks during long study hours. Smartphone fitness apps or an exercise tracker can also be extremely beneficial in getting more active.
14. Encourage making exercise a part of the daily schedule, not an occasional luxury.
Make sure your student has access to a local gym, which is a free service in most colleges. Other ways to get regular exercise include taking a PE class, joining a club or participating in an intramural sport.
15. Remember that “freshman 15” is not a real number and doesn’t have to happen to anyone.
The actual weight gain during the first year of college averages around 3 pounds and with all of the tips above it can be easily avoided. So remind your new undergrad to not stress out about their weight but take control over their lifestyle and have fun.
Share these tips with a future college student to help them stay happy and healthy during this very exciting adventure into college life.
Author: LivingWell PDX Blog
Adventist Health is committed to creating a healthier Portland community.