Going off to college is the first chance for young adults to assert themselves. That freedom to build their own lives, especially if they’re studying far from home, can affect their entire educational experience — for better or worse.
We asked Dr. Warren Seigel, chairman of pediatrics/adolescent medicine at Coney Island Hospital in New York City, for some practical advice for the Class of 2018 on getting a healthy start to their college career.
Body:“In order to do well in school, you need to be healthy,” Seigel says. That means getting the necessary vaccines (TDAP, meningitis, HPV and an annual flu shot) and adequate sleep and exercise.
Nutrition:Seigel sees patients return over winter break having gained “an enormous amount of weight” because they’re eating pizza six days a week. Be smart about what you’re putting in your body — and for your grades’ sake, don’t go to class hungry.
Security:Lock down your personal documents and computer if you’re in a dorm. “Although it’s their room, they’re part of a larger world,” Seigel warns. Even if you trust your roommates, you likely aren’t the only ones coming and going.
Mind:Living on your own can feel like an opportunity — or a huge challenge. “When you move out of your house and your support system changes, you can often get very depressed, isolated and lonely. Make sure that you never feel like you have absolutely no support.”
Sex:Condoms, contraception and consent remain the big themes. But when it comes to exploring all the new experiences suddenly available to you, Seigel advises holding onto the values you arrived with on campus. That being said, be prepared: Find a dispensary for emergency contraception, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.
Alcohol:Being of age for some things only means you might get into more trouble for breaking other rules, like underage drinking. “It can be devastating if you’re going to a campus with a zero-tolerance policy for drinking,” Seigel warns.
Eyes on the prize:“If you’re going off to college, every now and then remind yourself why you’re there. It’s such a great opportunity in your life; have a great time, but at the end of four years, you really do want a degree,” Seigel says. You also don’t want to stretch out your budget and put off your career for an extra year or two because you lost focus.