Not long ago, would-be college prospects often considered academic prowess and institutional prestige as primary indicators when choosing which college or university they planned to attend.
However, such innocence has diminished over the years amidst the ever-rising expectations of higher education institutions in waiting. Factor in the social unrest plaguing the U.S. and the global pandemic now in its third year of invading the world, and you have a perfect storm of mental health deterioration plaguing students from kindergarten through high school graduation.
As much as we would hope this seemingly alternate world is NOT the new norm, there isn’t much to suggest the contrary. Life is especially complicated nowadays, as are our mindsets in living it. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more and more college-bound students are taking their mental health into serious consideration when deciding which school they will eventually call their Alma Mater.
Higher education is a driving force behind much of our social and personal development. Sure we recognize a growing consciousness towards the world before we ever step foot on a college campus. Yet, it’s college life that brings about some of our most impactful changes towards our outlook on life itself. And when college students recognize their mental health is compromised, their school must serve as a safe haven for such mental health challenges.
What a student’s mental health needs are and what their prospective school offers is fast becoming the definitive factor in choosing their college or university.
In recognition of this increasing trend, most colleges now provide counseling centers as well as accommodations for documented mental and physical health issues, learning differences, and other areas where students may need assistance. School administrators are well aware that mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse are becoming major issues on campus. and so the need for these student services has grown exponentially within many schools across the country.
And though this is a positive sign that higher education institutions have set in motion a number of mental health initiatives, they recognize their work must evolve with each new class of incoming students.
Based on a recent article from U.S. News & World Report, the following is a unique example of what prospective college students are looking for:
Sarah Pennington, who since middle school has battled anxiety, depression, and a disorder known as trichotillomania which compelled her to pull her hair out, was clear on what her needs would be.
“I wanted a school within driving distance from home for a weekend visit, but not so close that I could randomly stop by," she says. "This was a good way to push me outside my comfort zone to rely less on my parents. And I did not want a big school. I wanted classes where the professor would know my name, and a campus I could easily get around. I also didn’t want a city school.”
Ultimately, Pennington chose to attend McDaniel College in Maryland, a school with fewer than 2,000 undergraduates in a town with a population under 20,000 that sits two hours from her home in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
“I visited around 20 colleges. What sold McDaniel for me was the visit. It felt right,” Pennington says. McDaniel’s “Step Ahead” summer bridge program, which was designed to help first-year students with disabilities make a smooth transition to college, ultimately cemented her decision.