Staying Healthy During Your Freshman Year of College

Being on your own for the first time at college can be a challenge, especially when you are sick.

Most college freshmen are accustomed to having mom or dad looking after them, and now suddenly they are finding themselves responsible for their own health.

“This is the first time they are navigating their health care alone, and this is the first time they are going to the doctor by themselves,” says Dr. Virginia Wells, director of The College of William & Mary’s Student Health Center. “When they get sick, they have no idea what to take, or don’t know anything about basic pain relievers. Parents need to prepare their kids for self-care.”

Since students are now living in close proximity to larger groups of people around the clock, there is greater risk for infection. Common illnesses college students are exposed to more often include colds, the flu, strep throat, mononucleosis and stomach viruses.

“The best way to prevent infection is good hygiene,” says Dr. Lawrence Pasquinelli, a pediatrician with Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters. “Be sure to wash your hands often. Wash your hands when they feel dirty, after going to the bathroom, before putting anything into your mouth, after handling money and after being around a sick person.”

In addition, Dr. Pasquinelli suggests ensuring vaccinations are up-to-date before starting college, as well as getting an influenza vaccine annually.

“Other ways to stay healthy involve caring for yourself during the challenges of college life,” he says. “Get enough sleep, typically seven to nine hours a day, try to reduce stress, exercise and find time to relax.”

As freshmen pack for college, Wells recommends including a kit for dorm use filled with basic first-aid supplies: a thermometer, ibuprofen, decongestants, nasal spray, cortisone cream, adhesive strips and bandages.

“Be sure to include instructions on what to take and how often to take it,” Wells says. “You should also teach them how to fill a prescription, and how to use their health insurance. They should have a copy of their insurance card. They should know basic knowledge of how their health insurance works.”

Wells echoes Pasquinelli when it comes to remaining healthy throughout the semester.

“Get enough sleep, get enough exercise, and make sure you establish healthy relationships as well,” she says. “It’s challenging, but you also want to try to find a healthy balance between enjoying the social aspect of college and the work.”