The Big Pond: How to Make the Transition to College

Back view of new college student walking toward universityFrom navigating the financial challenges of life away from home to integrating into new friendship circles, many college students find that they need some help to adjust to their new lives. And while not all students are specifically experiencing mental health issues, more than a quarter of college students have been treated for mental health challenges within the last year, and 95% of college counseling center directors say that mental health concerns are a growing challenge on campus. Help is available, but finding it can be challenging. No matter what you’re experiencing or where you are in the college journey, though, there are options.

Preparing for the Transition

Knowing what to expect and how to manage setbacks can make the college transition easier. Transition Year ( helps students plan for the transition to college, from choosing the right school to preparing for the first day of class. The site also offers resources for students diagnosed with a mental health condition. Some other things you can do to get ready include:

  • Planning for your health care needs. If you already have a mental health condition, talk to your doctor about your medication and determine whether there’s a more accessible or affordable option.
  • Evaluating health insurance options. Many schools offer free or low-cost care to current students, but you may need help covering the costs of medication or diagnostic tests. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners publishes a guide to college health insurance.
  • Meeting with a counselor at your college’s counseling center. If you’re already in therapy, this meeting can help you make a smooth transition to a new therapist. If you’re not getting therapy, though, a few sessions with a counselor can help prepare you for college life.

Advocating for Mental Health Rights and Responsibilities

In high school, you might have relied on a parent, a trusted teacher, or a guidance counselor to advocate for your needs. Your rights to fair treatment and quality care don’t go away now that you’re in college, but you’ll have to take more responsibility for protecting yourself. Here are some things you can do to make mental health care more accessible and accepted:

  • Get online support from other college students. StrengthofUs ( is the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s (NAMI) online community for young adults. You can network with other students facing similar issues, get assistance for mental health challenges, and seek advice from people who really do understand.
  • Join or start a NAMI chapter at your school. You can find a list of current chapters, as well as contact information for starting a new chapter, here.
  • Don’t forget about disability accommodations. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, mental health issues are disabilities that entitle students to reasonable accommodations upon request, such as a note taker, extra time to take tests, or a slight modification in class project requirements. If you need help seeking accommodations, contact your school’s disability office.

Mental Health Education for College Students

Knowledge really is power. Understanding mental health issues can help you detect a problem in yourself or a loved one. If you’ve already been diagnosed with a mental health issue, understanding your condition can help you become a strong advocate for excellent medical treatment. You’ll also have a better idea of what to expect and whether the transition to college might bring about any special challenges.

You can explore’s PsychPedia for information and resources related to a plethora of mental health issues. Dr. Bob maintains a massive list ( of mental health pamphlets designed specifically for college students. The American College Health Association offers pamphlets and in-depth information about a host of college health issues. Your college counseling center, your local chapter of NAMI, and local crisis centers can also be prime sources of information about mental health conditions.

College Access to Mental Health Care

Leaving behind familiar surroundings is challenging for everyone, but it becomes even more challenging if you had a therapist you knew and loved. Whether you’re replacing a much-beloved mental health expert or seeking therapy for the first time, your college counseling center is a prime resource for hooking you up with free or low-cost counseling options.

But what if you need help right now? Dozens of hotlines are dedicated to helping college students experiencing all types of crises. A few of your options include:

  • The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (, which offers both phone and online crisis counseling to sexual assault survivors and the people who love them.
  • Ulifeline (, which offers a self-evaluation tool, help finding mental health care on campus, and a hotline for students in need of immediate assistance.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ( offers support and referrals to depressed and suicidal people—as well as those seeking to help people experiencing suicidal feelings—24 hours a day.
  • The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers information, phone assistance, and extensive resources for people experiencing mood disorders.

If you’re not sure you’re ready to take the plunge and call a hotline or go to a counseling center, consider talking to your resident advisor or your academic advisor. They may be able to help you access on-campus resources. You can also search for a therapist on if your options on campus are limited. Some therapists have special deals for students and will try to accommodate your situation.


ADA Q&A. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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  • troy

    August 20th, 2014 at 2:14 PM

    It’s always a little easier for the sutdents whose parents have gone through the college experience before, a little more difficult for those who have no background with it and don’t fully always know what to expect from that type of experience.
    Hopefully you have chosen a school that is sensitive to those needs and which offers a little more guidance to those students who need more help navigating college life as well as discovering which services will be available to them.

  • Martha

    August 20th, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    You should stress time and again that you wnat your student to take advantage of every single opportunity that they have on campus.
    There will be clubs, there will be academics, there will be counseling and most of these things will be included as a part of their tuition.
    You are paying for them to have all of these things so why not encourage them to elarn about them and to actually make good use of them?
    There are things that will help them immensely and will help them feel a part of the campus, even more than you can. Getting involved and seeing what all is out there for them is a wonderful way for them to have the very best college experience possible.

  • Mikey

    August 21st, 2014 at 3:37 AM

    I don’t know if it is the stress of being away from home for the first time or just the inherent pressures that being college can bring about, but many people find that they have their first issues with depression or some other mental illness when they go off to school. This can be so frightening because you could be far from home, have very few new friends, and could feel scared and alone. Although most schools have a number of different services for you to take advantage of, it could take more effort than what you are accustomed to to find out what they are and where you can go for help. This is why it is important to make those connections early on before the real stress sets in and to maintain that support network at home so that you still have someone to call on when things might not feel okay.

  • harmony glenn

    August 21st, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    Most college students struggle not with not knowing the things that are available tot hem but with the responsibility that it takes to ask for help. They are a little more accustomed to having someone do things and get things for them and in college, especially if they have moved away from home, thiings are a little bit different and they have to start doing things for themselves that in the past perhaps someone else would do for them.

  • Johnny

    August 22nd, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    If the parents have given the child little preparation for being on his own and helping him with questions about these kinds of choices then I do think that the student could have a difficult time adjusting to everything that college can throw at you. It can be a little overwhelming at first- newfound freedom, time for making your own schedules and decisions and for the students who don’t know that all of this is coming, they can get into a whole lot of trouble! As parents, even if you don’t have a personal experience with college yourself it is up to you to also educate yourself about what the student could encounter and talk to them about what some of those experiences and choices could be like. The more you have talked and the better prpepared the student is, the better chance that he or she will have at getting through this unscathed.

  • S Smith

    August 23rd, 2014 at 5:33 AM

    I agree with Johnny.
    What is my job as a parent if not to eduacte my child about all that is out there in the world and the things that they could experience?
    just because I may not understand it on a personal level, if it is something that my kid will be doing then I need to take a vested interest in learning as much as I can about it so that he or she will be prepared when they experience it for themselves.
    I know that we say that these kids are adults when they go off to college, and I suppose that legally most of them are, but in your heart of hearts you know that this young perosn is not worldy enough to know about the places that life can take them yet. Let us pave the way for them so that at least the journey can be a little more comfortable.

  • moira

    August 25th, 2014 at 10:39 AM

    Well the kids have to be insured now, is that correct? So they have to be educated as to what their coverage is and what services are available to them via that policy.

  • Jim

    August 26th, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    I say let the kids go and learn a few things on their own.

    I never remember the things that my parents actually told me, but I do remember the things that I did on my own, especially the things that I was allowed to fail at.

    Those are always the things that I wanted to remember and make better. Had my parents been complacent and done it all for me then what kind of life lessons would I have really learned then?

  • boyd

    August 27th, 2014 at 2:03 PM

    College is a great time to learn so many new things and I think that one of the most important things that I learned was to actually learn to seek advice form others who may have been through the same things that I was going through.
    It can feel a little vulnerable at first but think about all of the awesome advice that you can get from someone who has already been there and done that!

  • Jacquetta

    August 28th, 2014 at 1:37 PM

    so many programs that go underutilized every year for college freshmen- are they choosing not to use them or is the communication that they are available to them just not there?

  • Camille Ownsbey

    August 30th, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    I ran into this when I went to school and started having problems from the very beginning but felt kind of lost because I was away from home for the first time and didn’t really want to have to worry my parents with what was going on. I was lucky that I had a professor sort of take me under her wing and make me feel a little more confident; that really helped me get through those first few months that were so hard.

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