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Women’s Health in College Resources & Support on Campus

Though everyone in college has the potential to face health issues, women are often at higher risk of certain physical and mental health concerns, such as depression, migraines and thyroid conditions. The good news is that student health services can help address these issues and more, keeping college women in better shape, both physically and mentally. This guide provides an overview of the resources and support available to women in college.

Meet the Expert

Kathleen Pridgen, M.D. Acting Medical Director, UAB Student Health Services

Written By:

Women’s Health Services on Campus

Regular physicals and other preventative care are essential for the health of all college students. Fortunately, most college campuses provide a robust series of health offerings, many of which are specific to college women.

What schools usually provide

“All student health centers vary, but at most of them you can find licensed primary care clinicians (doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants),” says Kathleen Pridgen, MD, the Acting Medical Director at University of Alabama Student Health Services.

“While you are a student, particularly if you are distant from home, student health services is the best place to start for a local primary care provider. The clinicians at student health services can provide health counseling, diagnose and treat a broad range of conditions, order laboratory tests and x-rays, and refer to a specialist when appropriate and coordinate care.”

Here’s a further breakdown of what many schools provide:

Women’s Health Services

Part of the overall health services offered by a school, women’s health services focuses on routine health care of female students, including pap smears, pregnancy testing and STI/STD treatment and screening. You can learn more about pregnancy resources on campus in our Pregnancy in College guide.

“As far as contraception, many student health centers offer a wide variety of options and counseling as to which option is the best for a woman’s individual reproductive health needs,” says Dr. Pridgen. “At our clinic, we offer long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods, such as IUDs, Nexplanon® and also a wide variety of combined hormonal contraceptives (“the pill,” patch or ring.)

Those working in women’s health centers on campus also have experience treating and counseling women, which can make routine health appointments more comfortable for female students.

Nutrition Services

Students with special dietary needs can receive advice and counseling from a registered dietitian. Typical services include general nutrition information, advice on nutrition options for specific medical conditions and tailored counseling for students with eating disorders (which includes up to 20 percent of college women).

Psychiatry and Counseling Services

College can take a toll on mental health. Schools recognize that students may need a wide range of mental health treatment options, from simple counseling to psychiatric evaluations and treatment plans.

Many colleges and universities offer peer or group therapy support groups specifically for women. For example, the University of Florida offers groups such as “Invincible Black Women,” which empowers African American women on their journey to positive mental health, and a “Women’s Meditation, Empowerment & Supportive Healing Group”.

Emergency Medical Services

EMS responds to medical emergency calls on campus and provides basic life support measures until more advanced medical care can be provided.


A number of commonly prescribed medications are available on campus. The payment methods accepted and precise medication available, including birth control, will depend on the specific school pharmacy’s policies.

Vaccinations and Travel Consulting

Students studying or traveling abroad might need specialized health advice depending on their intended destination. Vaccinations are also available to traveling students or those who just need a periodic vaccination, such as the flu vaccine.

Health and Wellness Education

Detailed tips and comprehensive information for staying healthy are the core benefits of this service. Students will have access to tailored consultations to address their specific health concerns, such as dealing with stress, sexual health and substance abuse.

Worried about privacy?
Don’t be.

“Students are often concerned that their parents or professors might have access to their student health center records, but all the care provided is confidential and protected under student (FERPA) and health privacy (HIPAA) laws,” says Dr. Pridgen.

Spotlight on Women’s Health Centers on Campus

Maggi Bridwell Center for Women’s Health, University of Maryland

The women’s health center at the University of Maryland provides standard women’s healthcare, such as annual exams, contraceptive counseling and services (including emergency contraception), pregnancy testing and counseling, and STI testing. Recognized as a leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality by the Human Rights Campaign, the women’s health center also focuses on providing compassionate healthcare for any person, regardless of gender identity, if they “have a uterus, vagina, or breasts”. Students can also start and manage hormone therapy through the women’s health center.

Women’s Health Clinic, The University of Arizona

In addition to having board-certified gynecologists and certified nurse practitioners, the Women’s Health Clinic at the University of Arizona also has certified nurse midwives on staff. The clinic offers standard women’s health services, such as annual exams, contraception counseling and prescriptions, and pregnancy testing. But they also offer preconception counseling for female students trying to conceive and evaluation and treatment for menopause.

Breastfeeding students will also be happy to know that the Women’s Health Center also offers a private, clean exam room with access to electrical outlets and handwashing areas for nursing and pumping.

Campus accommodations for health concerns

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), students who face certain health issues may be eligible for special accommodations. These accommodations are required by federal law and allow students with a disability or health concerns to have the same opportunities to learn as any other student.

Common accommodations

Health concerns that may require accommodations include chronic conditions, physical disabilities or mental health conditions. Pregnancy-related conditions, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or chronic migraines may also be covered by the ADA and may make students eligible for accommodations.

Here are some common accommodations for students:

  • Separate testing location

    Students suffering from anxiety disorders may benefit from a testing location that has fewer distractions.

  • Additional time to complete assignments or tests

    Colleges recognize that students with certain health issues may need extra time due to medical treatments and medication side effects.

  • Alternative assignments

    A student may be able to fulfill course requirements by completing alternative assignments if the student is unable to complete their assignment due to their disability. For example, if a student has to attend a particular off-campus event and write a paper about it, but is physically unable to get there, the teacher may allow the student to watch a recording of it or a video of something comparable to write about.

  • Assistive technology

    The types of technology available can vary widely depending on the student’s needs. For example, using a digital recorder to record in-class lectures can be helpful to students with attention disorders or any physical condition that makes listening or note-taking difficult.

  • Special academic assistant

    Some students may need assistance to get the most out of the classroom experience. For example, this could include an assistant to carry a laptop and books for someone who has an injury requiring crutches or a wheelchair. Or it could be someone who provides emotional support for a student suffering from PTSD or panic attacks.

  • Transportation services

    Those unable to drive or walk may be able to take advantage of a school-provided driver. This person can drive the student to campus from home or even transport the student on campus between buildings.

  • Distance learning

    If a student is receiving medical treatment or needs to spend time away from the campus due to a disability or condition, online class options allow them to continue taking classes from their home or hospital bed.

How to request accommodations

Students who believe they are entitled to classroom accommodations must take proactive and concrete steps to obtain them. The burden is on the student to make the request and provide necessary information in support of it. A request for accommodations will consist of the following major steps.


Women’s Mental Health in College

Mental health concerns, including anxiety and depressive disorders, occur often among the college student population. Though these can strike anyone regardless of gender, some mental health concerns are more common to women, such as eating disorders.

“My advice for any student struggling with mental health concerns would be to seek help sooner rather than later,” Dr. Pridgen advised. “As soon as you suspect you might be struggling with a mental health concern, or certainly if someone else expresses concern about your mental health, it is wise to make an appointment with either Student Health Services or Student Counseling Services. Each of these clinics is well equipped to evaluate your concern and help you find an appropriate plan.”

Common mental health concerns for college women

Many college women face mental health challenges while in college. Below are a few of the more common issues seen by college health services.

College women face an inordinate amount of social pressure, especially to look a certain way. In fact, 44% of college women diet to lose weight. Eating disorders can include extreme thoughts and behaviors concerning body weight and food consumption. Learn more about eating disorders in college.

Experimentation is rampant in college, as is peer pressure; these sometimes combine to create physical and emotional dependencies on alcohol or drugs. Although there are less women than men in treatment for substance abuse, women may be more sensitive to the effects of drugs than men and may be more likely to go to the emergency room or die from overdosing. Find out more about substance abuse and binge drinking on campus.

Living on their own (perhaps for the first time) while juggling the responsibilities of school, work and a personal life can lead to students feeling overwhelmed and stressed. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA) 2017 National College Health Assessment (NCHA), 30.6 percent of surveyed college students reported that stress affected their academic performance.

Unfortunately, women in college self-report higher levels of stress than men. 48 percent of college women report “more than average stress” compare to 39.1 percent of men. And 13 percent of women report “tremendous stress” versus 9.1 percent of men.

Depression can make an individual feel unusually melancholy, sad or despondent. Depression is one of the most common disorders in college, with 15.9 percent of students reporting it affected their academic performance in the ACHA-NCHA. In the 12 months prior to the survey, 18.8 percent of college women reported being diagnosed or treated for depression, versus 10.5 percent of men.

College life often results in a disrupted and irregular sleeping schedule. When combined with stress, anxiety and worries, it can be difficult to get enough sleep. In the ACHA-NCHA, 31.8 percent of college women reported that sleep difficulties had been “traumatic or very difficult to handle” in the previous 12 months, compared to 25.4 percent of men.

How mental health issues can affect women on campus

If a student is dealing with any of these issues, the importance of getting help early cannot be overstated. “One problem we run into often is students struggling with mental health problems all semester and not getting help until their academic status is in jeopardy,” says Dr. Pridgen. “Evaluation and treatment of mental illness takes time, and it is much more manageable when evaluated early.”

What are some of the consequences of untreated mental health issues?

Poor academic performance

As a whole, of all college students that reported decreased academic performance, stress was cited in about 30 percent of cases, sleep difficulties in about 20 percent, anxiety in about 24 percent and depression in about 16 percent of cases.

Women are also more likely to experience sexual assault on campus, which can cause them physical and mental harm. A 2014 study on the effect of sexual victimization of women on their academic performance found that 14.3 percent of those who experienced rape had a GPA lower than 2.5, while only 5.9 percent of college women who were not raped had a GPA below 2.5.

Dropping out of school

Mental health problems can have a significant impact on a female college student’s ability to finish school. A University of Michigan study, found that students with depression were about twice as likely to drop out of college. In the ACHA-NCHA, more than twice as many college women (15.2 percent) than men (7.2 percent) reported experiencing both depression and anxiety.

Decreased socialization

With the dramatic effect poor mental health can have on academic performance, it’s not a stretch to imagine how a college student’s personal life can also suffer. One of the significant symptoms of depression is social withdrawal. And for those suffering from anxiety, meeting new people or being in a socially unfamiliar situation can be frightening.


Suicide is the second leading cause of death among American college students, second to only accidents. Read our guide on Suicide Prevention in College.

Mood-boosters for college women

After taking advantage of the mental health services on campus, there are still many small ways that college women can boost their mood and improve their overall well-being.

  • Exercise

    The health benefits of exercise are well-documented, especially in stress and anxiety reduction. Exercise also releases endorphins, the body’s nature painkillers. Any form of exercise on campus can provide a mood boost, but there are also many groups on campus for women that can also provide an opportunity to build a support network. One example is CHAARG, a group on over 50 campuses with a mission to show college-aged girls that fitness is fun.

  • Join a club or organization

    Finding a group to join which engages in an activity you enjoy can bring positive influence to your life. And there are many women’s organizations on campus related to specific careers or majors, activism, hobbies and more.

  • Volunteer

    Not only is volunteering a great way to give back to your school community and find a tribe of like-minded women, it’s also scientifically proven to make you happier. According to a study by the London School of Economics, those who volunteered monthly described themselves as “very happy” seven percent more often than those who didn’t. Weekly volunteering lead to 16 percent.

  • Take advantage of therapy animals

    Some schools make therapy animals available for students. According to one study, students who participated in a dog therapy program showed reduced feelings of homesickness. If your school doesn’t have an animal therapy program, consider volunteering at an animal shelter or humane society. You’ll get the benefit of interacting with animals, plus get the added happiness boost of volunteering.

  • Get enough sleep

    According to the National Sleep Foundation, younger adults (age 18-25) need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. It can be tough to snag a full night’s sleep as a busy college student – in fact, over 46 percent of college women reported feeling “tired, dragged out or sleepy during the day” three to five days per week in the ACHA-NCHA. But putting in the extra effort to get a full night’s sleep at least a few days per week, or grabbing a quick nap between classes, can go a long way towards improving your state of mind.

Women’s mental health resources

  • Alpha Chi Omega

    A national sorority with the overarching goal of helping college women, Alpha Chi Omega offers Risk-Management Education for members, which can help improve their physical and emotional health.

  • OK2Talk.org

    Part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, OK2Talk provides an online community where teens and young adults can find a place to discuss their mental health issues.

  • ULifeline

    An online resource specifically designed for college students who need information concerning mental health issues and concerns.

  • Center for Young Women’s Health – Emotional Health

    A collection of resources on mental and emotional health issues created by Boston Children’s Hospital.

  • Womenshealth.gov

    Developed specifically for women, this site offers comprehensive information for a plethora of health issues, including mental health and related concerns.


Women’s Physical Health in College

College students are often in excellent health, but it’s important not to ignore the warning signs of impending health issues. It’s also important for those with chronic conditions to ensure they have a high standard of care during their early years, so they can look forward to living a full lifespan.

“Students are often not aware that student health services can help manage their chronic conditions, refill prescriptions, arrange regular follow up, etc,” Dr. Pridgen points out. “I would encourage all students to visit their school’s student health center in person in addition to visiting their school’s student health center website to get an idea of where it is located and what services are offered. You will likely discover that the variety and breadth of services is wider than you expected, and it is easier to become familiar with the clinic when you are feeling well instead of coming in for the first time with an illness.”

Health Concerns in College for Women


Diabetes is a disorder where an individual has high blood sugar for extended periods of time due to the body’s inability to produce or properly use insulin. 11.7 percent of all women in the United States have diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes, according to the CDC. Women with diabetes also have a higher risk than men for heart disease, depression and other conditions.

How it can affect college students

Without proper treatment, a college student with diabetes can find themselves suffering from extreme fatigue, unexplained weight loss and frequent urination. Women with diabetes are also more likely to experience yeast infections and may more commonly have an eating disorder than women without diabetes. These and other symptoms of diabetes can make going to class or concentrating on studies extremely difficult.

Learn more

Heart disease refers to a variety of problems with the heart and/or arteries and blood vessels, which can lead to a heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., according to the CDC.

How it can affect college students

While heart disease typically affects older individuals, habits in college can have a direct impact on later heart health. In fact, a 2013 study by the American College of Cardiology found that binge drinking in college can lead to heart disease later in life.

Learn more

Infertility refers to the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex. About 12 percent of women aged 15 to 44 have difficulty getting or staying pregnant, according to the CDC.

How it can affect college students

Having trouble conceiving can be a stressful experience, which can lead to feelings of depression. Infertility can also be a sign of underlying medical condition, which could result in further health problems for college women. It’s also important to note that untreated STDs or STIs, in college or any other time, can potentially lead to later infertility.

Learn more

Menopause is the time when a women’s menstrual cycle ends and is defined by going 12 months without a menstrual period.

How it can affect college students

Because of the hormonal changes that occur during menopause, women may experience symptoms that can be very uncomfortable, such as hot flashes, mood swings and severe fatigue, which can affect classroom performance.

Learn more

A migraine is an extremely painful headache characterized by intense throbbing pain on one side of the head and sensitivity to sounds or light. Women suffer from migraines three times more frequently than men, according to the Migraine Research Foundation, and fluctuating hormones tied to a woman’s menstrual cycle may be to blame.

How it can affect college students

Migraine headaches can be debilitating and can seriously affect a student’s ability to concentrate on work or attend class when they’re experiencing a migraine episode.

Learn more

Obesity refers to the body having more than needed amount of body fat. Obesity is often defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or above. According to a study released in 2016, 40 percent of American women were considered obese, versus 35 percent of men.

How it can affect college students

In addition to feeling self-conscious, students who are obese face potential health problems, such as diabetes and sleep apnea. Both can interfere with learning by preventing sleep and causing extreme fatigue.

Learn more

STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are health issues involving organisms (such as bacteria or viruses) that are typically spread through sexual contact. Nearly half of all new STD cases each year are among 15- to 24-year-olds, according to the CDC.

How it can affect college students

Students with STIs or STDs can face difficulty in their romantic life and overall health, including sexual function and fertility. Women can experience pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, tubal scarring, ectopic pregnancy and chronic pelvic pain as a result of STDs, says the CDC.

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The thyroid is a gland with extensive influence over the body’s metabolic processes. When there is a problem with the thyroid, it can result in improper production of hormones. Women are five to eight times more likely to develop a thyroid disorder, according to the American Thyroid Association.

How it can affect college students

Thyroid disorders result in hormone imbalances in the body, which can cause a number of symptoms, including mood swings, irritability, trouble sleeping, fatigue, trouble concentrating and intolerance to cold. Any of these can result in missing class or having trouble focusing on school work.

Learn more