8 Tips for College Women’s Health and Safety

College student speaks to school counselor

Going to college can be an exciting time for women of all ages. It’s an opportunity to gain new knowledge and experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. Maintaining good mental and physical health are important to a successful college experience. Students and institutions can work together to ensure a safe and healthy college experience for all. Read on to learn eight tips for college women’s health and safety.

Make Mental Health a Priority

College life can be stressful at times for many students and families. Students face new challenges, like adjusting to changes in living arrangements, meeting academic expectations, and building new friendships. Addressing mental health is an important part of overall health and well-being. To make mental health a priority, students can:

  • Manage stress by exercising regularly, getting enough sleep (7 or more hours per night), connecting socially, and taking time for relaxation and self-care.
  • Seek help from a medical or mental health professionalif depressed or experiencing distress. Many colleges have counseling centers or university health centers that offer free or low-cost mental health services and referrals.
  • Dial 988 or use the Lifeline Chat to reach a 24−hour crisis center if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, going through a hard time, or needs someone to talk to. 988 provides free‚ confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Colleges and universities can work to prevent suicide by using a comprehensive approach that promotes connectedness, improves access to mental health services on and off campus, and identifies and assists students who may be at risk for suicide.

Get and Stay Active

Physical activity has immediate health benefits, like reducing anxiety and improving sleep. Long-term, it can also improve mood. To get and stay active, students can:

Colleges and universities can promote physical activity by creating pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly campuses and adopting policies that encourage walking and biking. Administrators can also ensure campus recreation facilities are located in optimal areas for safety as well as foster a safe and gender-inclusive environment.

Thrive with a Disability

Girl graduating in wheelchair

College may offer both challenges and opportunities for women with disabilities. About 36 million women in the U.S. are living with a disability. A disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. To thrive with a disability, students can:

  • Practice ways to stay healthy, such as being physically active, eating healthy, and getting regular check-ups.
  • Check to see what campus support services are available for students with disabilities and and access needed resources and services.
  • Begin the accommodations process as early as possible in the school year. This will ensure that colleges and universities have time to set up the appropriate support that will enable students to thrive in the classroom.

Colleges and universities can work to remove barriers that affect people with disabilities by considering inclusion strategies to improve the health, well-being, and participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of college life.

Practice Good Menstrual Hygiene

Good menstrual hygiene is essential, yet many menstruators struggle each month to afford menstrual hygiene products and may not be able to manage their monthly cycles in a dignified way. To practice good menstrual hygiene, students can:

  • Practice healthy habits during your period, like changing pads and tampons regularly and washing your hands before and after using a menstrual product.
  • Contact student services if you need help with the financial costs of menstrual hygiene products.
  • Visit Better You Know to take the bleeding disorder risk assessment if you think you may have a bleeding disorder. Heavy bleeding during menstruation may be a sign of a bleeding disorder.

Campus-wide programs that provide menstrual hygiene products can help ensure students who menstruate have access to the resources needed.

Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are common, especially among young people – about half of new infections are among those ages 15-24 years. STIs are treatable and many are curable. They are also preventable, and there are ways to protect yourself and your partner(s). To prevent STIs, students can:

  • Use a condom from start to finish every time you have sex. Dental dams can be used as a barrier for oral sex.
  • Get tested and encourage your partner to do the same. Testing will determine if either of you has an infection that should be treated to prevent passing it to your partner(s).
  • Learn about getting the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, which can help prevent cervical cancer
  • Visit campus health services to speak with a health provider to discuss options that are right for you.
  • Consider avoiding sex. The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex.

Find a Contraception That’s Right for You

Several safe and highly effective methods are available to prevent pregnancy. Women can select from a range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods that best fit their needs. To get contraception that’s right for you, students can:

  • Visit the campus health clinic or find a clinic near you. Speak with a health provider about contraceptive methods and find out what may be available to you.
  • Use a preferred method of contraception (e.g., oral contraceptive pill, contraceptive patch, contraceptive ring, birth control shot, implant, intrauterine device [IUD]) as directed.
  • Prioritize protection from STIs. Hormonal contraceptives and IUDs are highly effective at preventing pregnancy, but they do not protect against STIs. See the section above on ways to protect yourself from STIs.

Policies and campus-wide programs that promote and provide contraception information and products can help bridge gaps in accessing reproductive health resources for women attending college.

Stay Safe

Sexual violence is sexual activity when consent is not obtained or not given freely. Sexual violence can occur in person, online, or through technology, such as posting or sharing sexual pictures of someone without their consent, or non-consensual sexting. Over half of women have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetimes. Women and racial and ethnic minority groups experience a higher burden of sexual violence. Sex trafficking is a type of human trafficking and is a form of modern-day slavery. Sex trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to make an adult engage in commercial sex acts. Any commercial sexual activity with a minor, even without force, fraud, or coercion, is considered trafficking. To stay safe, students can:

  • Learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking.
  • Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline if you or someone you know is being trafficked. Dial 1-888-373-7888(TTY: 711) or Text 233733.
  • Know your rights and seek help immediately if you or someone you know is the victim of violence. Contact the campus or community police if your or someone else’s safety is threatened.

To help prevent sexual violence, campus administrators can adopt scalable approaches to prevent sexual violence on college campuses. Resources include SOAR to Health and Wellness Training Program, the Sexual Violence on Campuses: Strategies for Prevention technical assistance document, and STOP SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence.

Protect Yourself Against Harms of Substance Use

Binge drinking is defined as having four or more alcoholic drinks for women or five or more drinks for men per occasion. Binge drinking is a behavior that increases chances for sexual risk behaviors, unintended pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, car crashes, physical and sexual violence, and alcohol poisoning. Binge drinking is also associated with increased chances of developing a chronic disease, including different types of cancer, such as breast cancer. Excessive alcohol use poses unique health and safety risks to women. To avoid binge drinking, students can:

  • Engage in social activities that don’t include alcohol or choose to drink non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Take a quick assessment to anonymously check your drinking, identify barriers and motivators for drinking less, and print or save a personalized change plan.

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases and affecting the health of people who smoke in general. E-cigarettes, sometimes called e-cigs, vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), cause significant health risks and are unsafe for youth and young adults Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive chemical compound found in tobacco, that makes tobacco products hard to quit. Nicotine can harm the developing adolescent brain, specifically the parts that control attention and learning. The brain keeps developing until about age 25. Quitting smoking has immediate and long-term benefits. To get help quitting tobacco and vaping products:

  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support.

Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Prescription opioids can be prescribed by doctors to treat moderate to severe pain but can also have serious risks and side effects. Counterfeit pill availability in the United States is increasing and can expose people to highly potent opioids such as illegally made fentanyl and persons using these pills may not be aware of their contents. Opioid use disorder (OUD), sometimes referred to as “opioid abuse or dependence” or “opioid addiction,” is a problematic pattern of opioid use that causes significant impairment or distress. If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, students can:

Colleges can change the alcohol environment on or around campuses by implementing, enforcing, and supporting effective environmental alcohol policies. College is also the ideal setting for innovative, campus-wide programming aimed at preventing and reducing drug use among college students.

Learn More about Women’s Health

Learn more about women’s health by visiting CDC’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH). OWH promotes public health research, evidence-based programs, policies, and strategies to improve the health and safety of all women and girls while serving as a central point for women’s health and raises visibility of risk factors and other conditions that impact women’s health. OWH was established in 1994 and authorized by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.