A young female college student between classes.

5 Ways to Prepare for College If You Struggle With Your Mental Health


Editor’s Note: Anna Jarashow Guimaraes is a social worker at Fountain House’s College Re-Entry Program, which helps academically-engaged 18-30 year-old college students, who withdraw from their studies due to mental health challenges, return to college and successfully reach their educational goals.

Returning to college after a summer away can be exciting, and it can also be nerve-wracking, particularly if you are going away for the first time. Being on campus comes with social and academic stress, so it is especially important if you have a struggle with mental health to know what resources are available and to make plans about how to connect with them before you arrive on campus.

Here are some ways you can assure a smoother transition:

1. Locate mental health support services.

If you have a history of struggling with mental health, contact local mental health resources, both on and off campus, before arriving at school.  Research and connect with all support services that you think may be helpful. Having this in place before the semester starts means you do not have to do extra work finding resources if or when you need them. For example, if you plan to work with a local therapist while at school or attend a local cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) group, make an appointment before school starts or during the first week before schoolwork starts to pick up.  Even if you are not sure that you plan to make use of a support, get connected early in the event that you do. It’s like having insurance, you want it in place in case of an issue.

2. Register with your school’s disability services office. 

It is particularly important for students with a mental health diagnosis to connect with their school’s disability services office before arriving on campus. Once you register, most schools will ask you to meet with them to discuss accommodations. Also be aware that some schools require you to register each year. Because most schools require some kind of paperwork in order to register, make sure you get whatever your school requires from your mental health care provider(s) before you go. Some providers need a few weeks notice to produce the right documents, so the earlier you ask for this paperwork the better. Meeting with disability counselors before the semester starts or within the first week is always best, so you have access to support from the start. However, you can reach out to them at any time, so don’t worry if you miss the first week.

3. Get organized, make a calendar. 

Create a personal planner using your school’s academic calendar as a guide. Include school closures, exam periods, and any other important personal or academic events that you know will happen during the semester. As soon as you get each course syllabus, you can add due dates for major assignments. This way you can map out what you need to do well in advance.

4. Have supplies on hand.

Buy as many class supplies ahead of time as you can. Some professors post syllabi before classes start and if not, email your professor and ask for a copy of the class syllabus. If you are able to get it early, check out the books you need or purchase them in advance so that you are good to go for the beginning of the semester. Tip: buying or renting used books online cuts cost! Also, you may want to purchase materials like binders, notebooks, folders, planners, and anything else that will keep you organized.

5. Arrive early and get situated.

Early arrival on campus will allow you time to set up a comfortable living space from the outset. You can even checkout where your classes are to avoid anxiously running around to find classrooms in your first week.

The more prepared you are going in; the better you’ll feel once you get there. You can’t plan for that pop quiz in the first week of class, but you can make sure that you know your resources, know your way around campus, know what the semester might look like and have a comfortable space to spend your downtime.

Here’s to a great school year!

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