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How can I evaluate campus mental health when choosing a college?

Mar 25, 2018

College brochures, tour guides, and online resources can tell you seemingly anything about a given school – from student body diversity, student:teacher ratios, and financial aid statistics down to the dining hall menu. However, the most important information for student success is often much harder to figure out – Are the students happy? Do they help one another succeed? Are there robust mental health treatment options? Is there a stigma around using them?

Because Command Education believes that mental health and emotional intelligence are the single largest factors in determining student success, we’ve put together this guide to evaluating campus climate and mental health resources. Take care of yourself, and remember that it’s much better in the short AND long term to be happy and successful at a less-well-known school rather than miserable at an Ivy League.

First, consider the statistics available. While it isn’t possible to get a full sense of the campus culture with statistics alone, they can be a useful jumping-off point. The Princeton Review conducts extensive student surveys to build a very useful assessment of the top 382 colleges. We recommend looking up each of your top schools for a detailed picture, as well as perusing the Top 20 lists that are most relevant to you, including Happiest Students, LGBTQ Friendly, Great Financial Aid, Lots of Race/Class Interaction, and Best Quality of Life. Keep in mind that YOUR mental health may be dependent on different factors – for example, it’s not uncommon for students from warm climates to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder when attending school in the Northeast, while students from large cities may be unhappy in rural colleges.

Second, reach out to current students. They are likely to have the most accurate read on general campus climate, although keep in mind that no school is right for everyone.

  • Do most students spend an unreasonable amount of time on schoolwork? On partying?
  • Is there a divide on campus? (i.e., between Greek and non-Greek students? Between athletes and non-athletes?)
  • Is it hard to make friends here? Are students lonely? Are they too busy with schoolwork to spend time with friends?
  • Do the professors seem to enjoy teaching? Are they sympathetic towards their students?
  • Are most students engaged with their classes? Do they skip a lot of lectures?

Beyond questions about general campus culture, students tend to have a long memory for the kind of campus incidents these questions will remind them of. Does the general campus/student body take the below seriously? What is the administration’s track record and reputation on campus for dealing with the below?

  • ‘Off-cycle’ students – taking time off/coming back to campus after time off
  • Campus sexual assault, rape, stalking and harassment
  • Bias-related incidents – hate crimes, threats, vandalism
  • Controversial speakers and events, student protests
  • Compensation/wellbeing of campus staff and employees
  • Student death/injury due to hazing, alcohol abuse, bullying

Third, determine the quality of the school’s mental health care resources. Some of this information may not be available online, but you may be able to call and ask. Here are a list of questions to consider:

  • What is the ratio of mental health professionals to students?
  • What percent of those mental health professionals are full-time and have completed their education? What percent are current Master’s students who will be leaving after a semester or two?
  • How difficult is it to enroll in weekly, hourly therapy sessions? Are many students encouraged to do half-hour sessions, or less than once a week? Is there a waitlist?
  • How diverse is the counselling staff? Is there a waitlist for therapists of color?
  • Do students need to be enrolled in the school’s healthcare plan to use these resources?
  • What kinds of therapy are available? Are there therapists who specialize in eating disorders, PTSD, CBT, Exposure therapy, DBT, etc? Is there a waitlist for any of these treatment options?

Although there’s no way to predict with 100% accuracy which school will best support your emotional well-being, we hope that the resources above will help in making an informed decision.

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