Throughout my college admissions process, I considered several factors when choosing a college: campus life, program opportunities, rank, location, class size, cost, and sports to name a few. While some of these elements would undoubtedly affect my mental health, I never directly questioned how my mental health would fit into the schools I was visiting, despite deeply valuing it. The overly competitive college process cultivated by our society often blurs the importance of student well-being, and my mental health was put on the backburner in my decision process. Now, as I enter my sophomore year at the University of Southern California (USC), I know more than ever that mental health should always be prioritized, especially during the era of great change and personal development that occurs during college.
When I arrived at USC, I was overwhelmed by the amount of change I was faced with. Moving to a different state, being immersed in an entirely new environment, and living on my own was an adjustment much more difficult than I had anticipated. Over time though, I was able to find my footing. I found reassurance in talking with friends about their similar emotions, gained familiarity with the wellness resources my campus offered, and reached out to find the support I needed. College is a whirlwind of new experiences, but throughout all this continuously prioritizing my mental health helped me to maintain stability despite the change.
I now realize that if I knew the questions to ask about mental health when visiting the colleges I was interested in, I might have been more prepared for the transition to come. Factoring in mental health and truly searching for an environment that will benefit not only your academics but also your well-being is key to putting yourself first in the college process. It’s important to find an institution that demonstrates care for your mental health by providing the resources needed to support you through this oftentimes intense period.
Here are five things that I wish I would have asked on my college visits to best gauge potential effects on mental health:
- How big is the university/what are the average class sizes?
When entering a new environment, finding comfort within your community is key. While some may prefer the larger atmosphere of a big student body with various opportunities, others may find this overwhelming and prefer a closer-knit environment. Class sizes are also important to evaluate when considering what works best for your learning style and the attention you will receive in the classroom.
- How does the university foster close community and supportive relationships across campus?
Building off of class size, finding your place on campus can also depend on how tight-knit the culture of the campus is. Getting to know the traditions, notable events, organizations, and student involvement opportunities offered is important to consider when imagining if you see yourself finding your community on campus. Along with this, having supportive relationships, whether that be through a friend, mentor, RA, or professor, during this transition era of your life is key. Asking about different support systems offered through the university and the role of these individuals may help to create a better understanding of the general culture on campus and relationships across the student and faculty.
- What does the weather look like at this college?
Weather greatly influences our mental health. Getting a feel for if the area is known for cloudy days, sunshine, or snow storms is important to factor in when deciding on a college. Whether you favor all four seasons or consistently sunny days, considering your preference helps you to put yourself first in the college process by finding a comfortable environment.
- What kinds of counseling/mental health services are offered? What does the process of accessing those look like?
Asking directly what mental health services are offered by the university will help with envisioning how a university cares for its students’ mental health. Look into the different environments and wellness services offered around campus. Although a university may offer services, it is important to gather a deeper understanding of what accessing these services and their availability will look like.
- Does the university demonstrate a focus on fostering a healthy campus environment through equitable mental health services?
Finally, familiarize yourself with the university’s strategic approach to pursuing a healthy campus and explore its commitment to providing mental health opportunities for everyone. This can often be done by checking out the university’s missions and values, which provide a clearer look at how mental health is prioritized on campus. Everyone deserves equal access to mental health support. Paying attention to how the university works to provide specialized services to address the accessibility gaps will help you to better understand the university’s approach to supporting the diversity of their student’s backgrounds and needs. Resources such as the Active Minds Healthy Campus Award can also offer helpful insight into the variety of ways that campuses can prioritize universal student well-being.