College Health and Safety for Women

Going to college may be an exciting time for all age groups. It’s an opportunity for students to gain new knowledge and experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. Working together, students and institutions can take steps to ensure a safe and healthy college experience for all.

Tips for Students


woman wearing mask showing vaccination site on arm

College student receives vaccination

Getting vaccinated is a safe and effective way to stay healthy. The back-to-school season is also a great time to make sure that all recommended vaccinations are up to date, including the COVID-19 vaccine and flu vaccine. Contact your college’s medical services or student health clinic to learn what vaccinations are required before attending classes. Check the Adult Vaccine Assessment Tool to learn about recommended vaccinations for adults based on age, health conditions, job, and other factors. Also visit to find a COVID-19 vaccine location near campus.

Housing and Food

Students who cannot afford safe and stable housing, and those who may have trouble accessing enough healthy food options, can contact campus administrators and campus resource offices for assistance and help with locating housing and food resources. Students should also check eligibility for national programs such as SNAP and HUD for additional benefits.

Mental Health

College student speaks to school counselor

College student speaks to college counselor

College life can be a stressful time for many students and families. Addressing mental health is an important part of overall health and well-being and includes managing emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from depression than men. As concerns grow regarding the mental health of college students and its impacts on quality of life and academic success, it is important for students to take care of their well-being.

A few ways for students to manage stress are to exercise regularly and get enough sleep (7 or more hours per night), connect socially, and take time for relaxation and self-care. If depression lasts for a long time, it can interfere with normal everyday functioning. Seek help from a medical or mental health professional if depressed or experiencing distress. Many colleges have counseling centers that offer free or low-cost mental health services and referrals. For people adversely affected by COVID-19-related stress, grief, and loss, How Right Now is a tool that can help with providing tips and resources to strengthen emotional well-being and resiliency.


College aged women report more suicidal thoughts than college aged men. Suicide is rarely caused by a single circumstance or event. Instead, a range of factors at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels can increase risk. Are you or someone you know thinking about suicide, going through a hard time, or need someone to talk to? Dial 988 or use the Lifeline Chat to reach a 24−hour crisis center. 988 is the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides free‚ confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Physical Activity

Adults need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week. Getting physical activity can be a challenge and may require some planning. Physical activity has many health benefits. For example, physical activity reduces blood pressure and anxiety and helps with better sleep. It can also help to improve mood.

Menstrual Hygiene

Good menstrual hygiene practice 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. Lack of access to affordable feminine hygiene products may cause women to choose between food or period products each month. Check with the campus student affairs office to find out what menstrual health and hygiene resources may be available. Students can also visit Better You Know to take the bleeding disorder risk assessment to better understand any bleeding symptoms.


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 condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. Campus support services are available for students with disabilities to access resources and services they may need.


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. Not all contraceptive methods protect against HIV and other STIs, so use of condoms with another modern method of contraception (i.e., oral contraceptive pill, contraceptive patch, contraceptive ring, intrauterine device [IUD]) should be considered. Make sure to speak with a health provider to select contraceptive methods that are right for you.

Avoid 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 risky sexual behavior, 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, such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease, and different types of cancer, including breast cancer. Drinking less is better for your health and safety than drinking more. Excessive alcohol use poses unique health and safety risks to women. Take a quick assessment to anonymously check your drinking, identify barriers and motivators for drinking less, and print or save a personalized change plan.

If cigarette smoking continues at the current rate among youth in the U.S., 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from a smoking-related illness. Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases and affecting the health of people who smoke in general. Quitting smoking has immediate and long-term benefits. For free support in quitting smoking, dial 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669).

E-cigarettes cause significant health risks and are the most commonly used tobacco product among 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. You can get help in quitting tobacco and vaping products by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free support.


Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Opioid use disorder (OUD), sometimes referred to as “opioid abuse or dependence” or “opioid addiction,” is a problematic pattern of opioid use that causes impairment or distress. Stigma or the fear of stigma may stop someone from sharing their health condition with their partner, friends, or family members. If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, talk to a healthcare provider, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or visit SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

Stay Safe

Sexual violence refers to sexual activity when consent is not obtained or not given freely, and it’s occurring on college campuses and in communities across the U.S. 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. For example, more than 2 in 5 non-Hispanic Multiracial women and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native women were raped in their lifetime.

People with disabilities have an increased risk of experiencing sexual violence and intimate partner violence compared to people without a disability. Women with a disability are more likely than women without a disability to report experiencing rape, sexual violence other than rape, physical violence, stalking, psychological aggression, and control of reproductive or sexual health by an intimate partner.

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. Learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking by visiting National Human Trafficking Hotline’s Recognizing the Signs.

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Dial 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711) or Text 233733.

Students should know their rights and seek help immediately if they or someone they know is the victim of violence. Contact the campus or community police if your or someone else’s safety is threatened.

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). The most reliable way to avoid infection is to not have sex. If you do decide to have sex, you can use a condom from start to finish every time you have sex. Dental dams can be used as a barrier for oral sex. You and your partner can also get tested to know if either of you have an infection, get treated, and prevent passing it to your partner(s). Talk to a healthcare provider about getting the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to help prevent HPV and related cancers.

If you have been exposed to someone with mpox (formerly “monkeypox”) or if you have symptoms of mpox, even if you don’t think you had contact with someone with mpox, talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and prevention options, including vaccination.

Information and Resources for Colleges and Universities

Women clean and disinfect classrooms while wearing protective masks

Women clean and disinfect classrooms while wearing protective masks

Colleges and universities can play a critical role in ensuring students have access to available resources for a safe and healthy college experience. Administrators can help increase vaccine uptake among students, faculty, and staff by providing information about and offering COVID-19 and other vaccinations, such as mpox vaccination, promoting vaccine trust and confidence, and establishing supportive policies and practices that make getting vaccinated as easy and convenient as possible. Colleges and universities should also continue to facilitate health-promoting behaviors, such as hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, to reduce the spread of infectious disease in general. CDC’s cleaning, disinfecting, and ventilation recommendations, including routine cleaning of high touch surfaces and shared objects, should continue to be followed.

Campus Resources

Support Resilience Through Education Programs

Major life events commonly occur in adulthood, requiring new or refreshed coping and problem-solving skills necessary to manage stress and maintain resilience. Primary prevention programs can lower self-reported depression and perceived stress. History of depression and other mental illnesses, among other contributors, are risk factors for suicide. The best way for colleges and university to prevent suicide is to use 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.

Campus wide promotions help to ensure students are aware and able to navigate available resources, such as food and housing, on and off campus, mental health services, and information on prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Colleges, along with student organizations, can work together to establish food pantry services and connect students with local and community organizations to provide additional resources as necessary. Policies and campus-wide programs that promote and provide support and services for menstrual hygiene and contraception information, and products available to students, can help bridge gaps in accessing reproductive health resources for women attending college.

Promote Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities

Girl graduating in wheelchair

Woman who uses a wheelchair smiles while participating in her college graduation ceremony.

It is essential that colleges and universities identify ways to remove barriers that affect people with disabilities. Create and use inclusion strategies to improve the health, well-being, and participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of college life. You can encourage all students, faculty, and staff to discuss any accommodations they might need with the campus disability resource center.

Prevent Sexual Violence and Human Trafficking

Adoptable and scalable approaches to prevent sexual violence on college campuses can include but are not limited to promotion of social norms to protect against violence, the creation of protective environments, and support of victims by providing victim-centered approaches. Many individuals who have experienced human trafficking come into contact with healthcare and social service providers during and after their exploitation, so it is important that campus providers are trained in identifying and responding to victims of trafficking. The SOAR to Health and Wellness Training Program is designed to help identify and respond to those who are at risk of, are currently experiencing, or have experienced trafficking and connect them with the resources they need. Additional resources, such as the Sexual Violence on Campuses: Strategies for Prevention technical assistance document assists practitioners and their campus partners with planning and implementing sexual violence prevention strategies on college and university campuses, and STOP SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence, highlights strategies based on the best available evidence to help states and communities prevent and reduce sexual violence.

Prevent and Reduce Excessive Drinking and Other Drug Use

The college environment is an important factor in whether college students initiate drug or alcohol use. 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. Prevention with Purpose: A Strategic Planning Guide for Preventing Drug Misuse Among College Students is a guide that provides a roadmap for college- and university-based prevention professionals to collaborate with a wide range of stakeholders, from students to administrators, to address campus-wide drug use issues.

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.