6 Ways to Take Advantage of Your College’s Health Center

When you’re at college—especially if you’re far away from home—it’s difficult to set up doctor’s appointments and get fast treatment for any health issues. That’s where the health center on your campus comes in handy. Whether you’re looking for birth control, antidepressants or treatment for minor injuries, you’ll find what you need—or at least be directed to what you need. Read on to learn how to best take advantage of your school’s health center.

1. Stop by for minor injuries, even if it’s just a small cut

The minor services at your health center, excluding medication, appointments and tests, are often free, or at least much cheaper than going to a local hospital or doctor. Don’t be afraid to stop by for minor injuries.

Dr. Rochelle Shapiro, acting chief medical officer at Florida Atlantic University, says, "Condoms and small Band-Aids for an acute cut are available at the front desk and throughout the clinic for free. An after-hours Nurse Phone line is available for health-related questions." Most likely, you'll find those resources for free at your school's health center as well.

Kylie Walker, a junior at Sonoma State University, says that nothing is too small for a walk-in. “I go to my health center for just about anything that’s wrong with me because it’s absolutely free!” she says. “Even if it’s just to get Band-Aids for a cut, I make sure to utilize my health center for its expertise and friendly/helpful staff. My health motto is that it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry!”

Like Kylie says, don’t let those free resources go to waste—you’re paying a lot of money to be in college! It’s great to keep a small first-aid kit in your room as well, but feel free to head to your health center if you’re out and about.

2. Find free or discounted birth control

Colleges are all about encouraging safe sex practices, especially since most young adults are sexually active during college. Your health center will have many resources to provide you with the birth control method you’re looking for.

At Florida Atlantic University, condoms are free and birth control pills are heavily discounted. "[The] least expensive birth control pills are about $9 at the FAU Pharmacy," Dr. Shapiro says.

Kylie agrees. “Don’t hesitate to ask for birth control!” she says. “My health center hands out free condoms (male and female) and they will prescribe birth control via the pill if you have an appointment—though it depends on your state and its laws against women’s sexual health.” Colleges vary all across the country, but these are a few services that might be available at your center—make sure to check if they’re at your school if you’re interested!

Veronika Potylitsina, a senior at the University of Toronto, says that other sexual health items are readily available at her health center as well. “Along with free birth control, my university’s health center provided links to walk-in clinics which in turn directed me to free/discounted Plan B and pregnancy tests,” she says. “What would have been upwards of two hundred dollars ended up being so much less thanks to the resources provided by my health center.”

And it's not just birth control. Many health centers also provide free testing for STDs. Dr. Shapiro notes that "Testing Tuesday" happens every week, where patients can receive free, same-day testing for chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV. Check with your university's health center to see if you have similar benefits.

Don’t pay tons of money for your sexual health! Make sure to use the resources provided for you—they’re there for a reason. Even if you can’t find things completely free, your health center will be able to direct you to discounted options.

Related: 11 Resolutions to Keep You Healthy This School Year

3. Get a doctor’s note for classes and assignments

It’s difficult to get work done when you’re sick. While some professors might let an absence or late assignment slide due to sickness, others will ask for proof—also known as a doctor’s note. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get in touch with your usual doctor when you’re far from home. That’s where your college’s health center can help out.

Christian Pierce, a junior at Florida Atlantic University, explains how convenient it can be to get a doctor’s note. “I missed a deadline for a big paper near the end of the semester due to a bad stomach bug,” he says. “I just walked into my school’s health clinic and they quickly issued me a receipt that I was in the clinic after seeing how sick I was.”

Check your health center’s policy on doctor’s notes. You can drop by and ask, or find it online. Most will write you a note after a quick check-up. Others might require you to set up a formal appointment. Either way, it’s important information to know, so make sure you find out. You don’t want to miss a big deadline due to sickness without a proper excuse. Some college health centers might not even give out doctor’s notes and will require another way to get an excused absence. Do your best to find out the policies at your school!

4. Reach out for mental health aid

Too many people discount the importance of taking care of their mental health. Thankfully, most colleges are making strides in providing students the mental support that they need. Whether you’re looking for medication or counseling, you should be able to find it on campus.

Veronika says she was able to get help from her school. “Mental health wise, reaching out to my health center regarding my anxiety and depression helped me push through the rest of my semester when I felt like I was in a rut in my mental health,” she says. “I was able to receive a doctor’s note to cover my assignments, medication and help from a professional all within the span of a few days which definitely helped ease a lot of the stress that I felt during the semester.” While some health centers may not be as quick as Veronika’s, they might have resources like hotlines that can provide you timely support and help through your problems.

Dr. Shapiro gives you an idea of what to expect. "The counseling center offers short-term therapy and their services are free. They are staffed by licensed psychologists and mental health counselors. Many groups are offered for stress management, relationships, eating issues and others," she says. "There are also urgent visits available on same day, if needed. After-hours phone consultation with a licensed therapist is available." Check with your university to see if you have similar services available.

College can definitely be stressful. Difficult classes, combined with an entirely new social environment, can be debilitating for your mental health. Make sure to get the help you need so you can continue to be your best self!

5. Find discounted medication even if you don’t have insurance

Many college health centers acknowledge student financial difficulties. When you don’t have insurance, it’s hard to find medications you need at an affordable price. Thankfully, colleges are willing to help.

Dr. Shapiro notes that prices at FAU are quite reasonable. "We have self-pay prices which are very reduced," she says. "A new patient visit is $20 to $40, and a follow-up visit is $12 to $30. Labs are also very reduced, starting at $10 for a complete blood count." Much cheaper than a traditional doctor's office!

“Medication at my health center is much less expensive whether or not you have insurance,” Kylie says. “It’s always a nice reassurance when I’m caught with an ailment mid-semester.”

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your health center for your problems, even if you don’t have insurance. They will direct you to where you can get the help you need. Many colleges offer cheap insurance specifically for their health center as well.

6. Find free or discounted care from specialists

You might think that you can only find general practice doctors at your college health center, but you’d be surprised to find out that specialty offerings are available—you just have to ask what’s offered at your specific health center. For example, many schools have a nutritionist on staff that you can meet with if you’re dealing with an eating disorder or need healthy ways to gain or lose weight.

Dr. Shapiro lists a few specialty offerings available at FAU. "We have a dentist and dental hygienist and services are at a deep discount. A dietitian is available at Owl Care and her visits are free."

In addition, even if they don’t have the specialists on staff, your health center might have discounted options on everything from massage therapists to acupuncturists. You just have to ask and find out. If you’re planning to study abroad for a semester and need to get vaccines for a specific country, your school can also provide resources so you can get that done. They might even have free flu shots when flu season comes around—Dr. Shapiro notes that free flu vaccines are available for students, staff and faculty at FAU.

If your school health center doesn’t offer a service that’s on this list or anything else you think you need to have a successful college experience, you could always try and petition for more health resources. “It’s surprising how many resources the center can have, but if they don’t have what you need, there’s definitely tons of opportunities to help them expand their resource bank and initiatives whether through the university or your student body representatives,” Veronika says.

Good luck, collegiettes! Take advantage of all your healthcare resources to do the best you can throughout the year.