My College:
Health & Safety

When To Visit the Campus Health Center

Suzanne Shaffer

The health center is right on campus, convenient, and staffed with professionals who will know when a problem is treatable or when your student should be referred to a specialist or sent to the emergency room. Students should feel comfortable taking advantage of campus health resources, and parents should feel confident that they will receive quality care.

Most college health centers provide the same things as a family doctor:

  • Check-ups
  • Immunizations (including shots needed for study abroad)
  • Treatment of common colds, strep throat and other communicable illnesses
  • Treatment of minor chronic ailments (like allergies)
  • Mental health services
  • Sexual and reproductive health advice and treatment (including contraception)
  • Prevention education and recovery support relating to alcohol and substance abuse, sexual assault, and stress

The health center may also offer nutrition counseling, dental and vision services, on-site pharmacy, x-rays, labs, physical therapy and treatment for sports injuries.

Many services will be free to all fully enrolled students regardless of their insurance plan; for others, your student will be billed if they are not on the college health insurance plan. Learn more on the health center website and by reviewing your student’s health insurance coverage.

Many colleges now offer online appointment scheduling and online health advice regarding minor ailments. Definitely something your student should take advantage of!

When should my student visit the campus health center?

Your student needs to figure out if something is “just a cold” or more serious. According to, they should visit the health center if they have any of these symptoms:

☐ A high, prolonged fever (above 102 F)

☐ Symptoms (such as a sore throat or cough) that last more than 10 days or get worse instead of better

☐ Trouble breathing or shortness of breath

☐ Pain or pressure in the chest, which could indicate pneumonia

☐ Fainting (or feeling faint), loss of balance, dizziness

☐ Confusion, memory loss, disorientation

☐ Moderate or severe stomach pain; persistent nausea

☐ Severe or persistent vomiting

☐ Severe headache that peaks in intensity within seconds; severe pain in face or forehead

☐ Blurred or double vision

☐ Numbness or weakness in arms, legs or face

☐ Symptoms of dehydration

Go over this list with your student so they can take care of themselves and also be prepared to help a friend or roommate!

When should my student go to a specialist or the E.R.?

Again, it’s up to your student to decide. For the most part, student health services will know what is necessary. If they refer your student to a specialist or the hospital, your student should follow their advice.

Just as you would go straight to a hospital for a serious injury, accident or illness such as appendicitis, your college student should, too. Alcohol poisoning is another potentially life-threatening condition where immediate medical attention is critical.

If your student has received basic treatment from the campus health center and does not improve, it’s probably time to consult a specialist.

Mental health is important, too.

Most colleges offer mental health services and are equipped to help students with the most common emotional health problems and challenges that occur in college. Your student should seek support if they experience anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation or suicidal thoughts.

Remind your student that, when in doubt, it’s always best to visit student health services and consult a nurse or physician.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
  • Health and Well-Being iPad

    Help your student take the best possible care of themselves and get support when they need it.

    Click Here to Download

  • Find Your University

    Don't Miss Out!

    Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter!

    Subscribe Today