National Alliance on Mental Illness
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Making the Decision: Choosing the Right College for You

Although it's important to go to a college that can adequately address your mental health needs, it is also valuable to find a college that fits your personality, interests and career goals. You will have to weigh the pros and cons of each of these factors to determine which school overall is best for you.

Try and narrow your search to schools where you can see yourself as part of the community, where you will feel comfortable and believe that you will succeed while you are there. When looking at mental health services, keep in mind that you will need to find a balance. You will most likely not find a program that meets all of your needs. Write down and prioritize your specific needs and use the list as a guide when making your final decision.

Here are some additional hints on what you may wish to consider when looking at colleges to help you determine which one may be best for you and how you can successfully transition to the college of your choice.

Campus Counseling Centers

Campus-based counseling centers typically offer excellent services when dealing with everyday concerns such as relationship conflicts, adjusting to college and academic issues. They may also address anxiety, depression, substance use, eating disorders and trauma recovery. However, there are drawbacks to most counseling centers on campus, including:

  • Only offering short-term care so students must find off-campus services to go for long-term care.
  • Not being equipped to effectively handle the needs of students with more serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, major anxiety and related disorders.
    These drawbacks make it all the more important to locate accessible, affordable and student-friendly mental health practices in the community so you can continue to receive effective mental health care when you transition to college.

Psychiatric Care on Campus

There are typically long waits to see a psychiatrist on campus. Here are some tips to ensure you are connected to a psychiatrist from the moment school starts:

  • Try and make an appointment prior to arriving at school, possibly even in the summer. This will allow you to see a psychiatrist early and to establish a set schedule.
  • Have a referral ready to see a campus psychiatrist; nearly all campus psychiatrists take students by referral only.
  • As with campus counseling centers, some psychiatrists on campus also have a limit on the number of times a patient can be seen. Ask if there are any such limits and if there are, make sure to locate an off-campus psychiatrist before school starts if you will need ongoing care.
  • If you end up seeing a provider off campus and your school's health center has a pharmacy, check to see if they will fill prescriptions from outside practices. Many times certain medications are filled for free at campus health centers as part of fees students pay each semester.

It's also important to know what the psychiatric emergency procedures are for your college, so you may want to do the following before arriving at school:

  • Ask what emergency procedures are in place during business hours at the campus counseling center as well as with psychiatrist/s on campus.
  • A few schools offer a 24-hour hotline to call—however, most don’t. Be sure to have the number of a local hospital in case you have an emergency during those times when campus services and psychiatrists are not available—which is usually during the evenings and weekends.

Campus Size

Campus size can have a huge impact on how you feel at college. Large campuses can be overwhelming and intimidating while smaller campuses may not have everything you want or need. Here are some things to consider when looking at campus size:

  • Small campuses often feel less overwhelming, yet tend to have less psychological services.
  • Large campuses generally offer a wider array of services, however, often have long waits because of the size of the campus.
  • If you decide to attend a large school, try to join an organization, find a social group and make friends, especially in the dorms. This may help make the campus seem smaller and less overwhelming.
  • Compare the number of counselors and especially psychiatrists that are employed at the school to the number of students on campus. This is a good indicator of how long the wait will be and shows the school’s commitment to mental health services and supports.