Your college counseling center is a great resource—but only if you actually use it. Some schools do a great job of getting their center in front of students and promoting everything it does, but others don’t, and even with administrators’ best efforts, misconceptions linger. At bigger schools, you may not even know you have such a thing available to you. Don’t waste this excellent resource. Here’s what you can expect from yours.

What do college counseling centers do?

Campus mental health services are vital: Whether you’re a young undergrad navigating your first time away from home and all the pressure of doing well on your own or a seasoned graduate student trying to juggle adult life and class, we could all use some guidance and professional attention. Plenty of research has been devoted to the specific mental health needs of students and for good reason. School is stressful. Young adulthood is stressful. Life is stressful—and it keeps getting more stressful the deeper into your grown years you go. Add in newfound freedom, the abundant indulgence of the party scene, challenging classes, homesickness, the intense romantic entanglements of your early 20s, and so much more, and it’s a recipe for a shitshow.

Campus mental health centers, fortunately, typically provide the following services:

  • Counseling
  • Therapy
  • Workshops
  • Treatment recommendations
  • Referrals

You may not realize you can schedule an appointment to go see a mental health professional on campus to discuss the problems you’re facing, but these professionals are adept at handling student-specific issues like homesickness, depression, family disagreements, substance use, career and academic uncertainty, and social anxiety, per Best Colleges. Licensed counselors can give you guidance that someone like your RA or academic advisor can’t.

Are all the services free?

Money is tight when you’re paying a fortune for an education. The good news is you typically don’t need to pay for your school’s mental health services. My school, for instance, offers individual and group counseling, wellness workshops, referrals to longer-term services, and even long-term psychiatric medication services on-site—and only the psychiatry services cost money. Many schools even offer online appointments (and the number has gone up sharply since the COVID-19 pandemic), so even if you’re a remote student or just don’t want to go in-person, you have a free option to talk to someone who can help you.

In the event you need a referral to a specialist off-campus, it will probably cost you, so keep that in mind. Still, there are urgent appointments available on-site, and your school should also list after-hours procedures for when you need help outside of office hours. For the most part, you can access free services right through your school without having to pay or go elsewhere.

Try to make your first appointment early in the semester before the center’s books fill up. Nail down a consistent time to meet with a counselor every week through the semester and do it early, even before a major problem arises, so you’re well-positioned to work through it with a pro when something does come up.

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