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How to Prepare Mentally for (Going Back to) College

College is known for testing emotional problem-solving skills. Preparing ahead of time can help ease the transition.

Favorite pens, stylish new outfits, crisp clean shoes, aesthetic dorm, and a new laptop. With the start of classes being just around the corner, surely you’ve checked off nearly everything on your list - but have you equipped yourself to maintain a healthy level of mental health?

Woman using laptop at home in the living room
Photo by Arthur Hidden

College is known for testing the emotional problem-solving skills of everyone who graces its presence. Preparing ahead of time to handle new situations, triggers, and stressors can help ease the transition into a new world or into a rigorous junior core.

Remember to do these things ahead of time:

  • Let your university know ahead of time if you have a psychiatric or learning disorder and seek adequate accommodations. Remember that colleges are required to provide students the help they need to have equal access to education. Your university’s accessibility center is your biggest advocate, and reaching out to them ahead of time can help you feel better prepared for the semester.
  • If you’re going to school out of state, learn whether your insurance will cover mental health services there. Freshman year is the most common time for patients to stop seeing their mental health service provider, which has the potential to be problematic if you could use the continued support. If you’re seeing someone already, you’re probably familiar with the process of finding a provider that is both covered by your insurance and complements your needs and personality. Checking beforehand if you’ll be able to see someone in a new state or area can help ease some of the stress if you decide to start seeing someone down the road. Your current therapist may have some referral ideas too, don’t hesitate to ask. There may also be local options for mental health clinics that take clients who don’t have insurance.
  • Have any needed paperwork: diagnosis, treatment needs, evaluations, and any other documentation. University Accessibility Centers and counseling services may ask for a signed document from a healthcare professional to verify your diagnosis and what accommodations you’ll be needing.

Prepare yourself by doing these things:

  • Learn to be your own advocate. Most people go into teaching because they are passionate about the subject they teach and the people they teach it to. Your professors should have your best interest at heart. Speaking personally with them to introduce yourself and your situation adds in one more person to your support circle who is looking out for you.
  • Practice basic wellness habits. Start taking care of yourself emotionally as well as physically. Set boundaries for what you’ll allow yourself to do and how often. Implement these six ways of optimizing your mental health. Be mindful of your emotions and what your body is trying to tell you.
  • Embrace or create a support system. Seek out any mentoring, advising, or tutoring programs at your school. These exist to help students out, but they can’t help if they don’t know you’re struggling. 
  • Cope ahead of time. When you move to a new area you may not have access to the same activities or people that have helped you cope in the past. To keep from being blindsided, you can plan ahead how you might handle challenging situations. Creating a stop, drop, and roll-esque plan for what to do when you’re in a potentially triggering environment or feeling depressed can help prepare you to be equipped emotionally for when these situations inevitably arise.