Information for Parents and Families

When a student departs for college, a parent or guardian likely has many questions and concerns. Ranked high on the list is “who will take care of my student when they are sick and what is my student supposed to do?”

Our dedicated Student Health Center (SHC) team is specially trained on both the mental health and physical well-being needs of adolescents and young adults. We want students to think of us as a resource to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle in addition to a place to go if/when they get sick. No matter the situation, we pledge to provide them with the best medical and mental health care possible. 

The transition to college can be an exciting and, at times, stressful event for many students and families. The Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) staff are well versed in college student mental health issues and have experience helping students with a wide range of concerns. CAPS provides free, confidential, solution-focused care that is personalized and relevant for each student. Our stepped-care model includes a continuum of resources from informational and interactional self-help, drop in seminars, short-term individual or group counseling, psychiatric evaluations and medication management, to after-hours crisis intervention services.

Additionally, whether your student lives on or off-campus, our medical services team can perform a variety of preventive services, evaluation and treatment of acute and chronic medical illnesses, and health education. A common misperception is that students who can’t travel home to see their primary care physician should go to the local Emergency Room. Our medical staff offers all of the services of a primary care practice.   

To help you navigate our campus medical and mental health resources and become more familiar with terminology and our process, please read through our SHC Resource Guide: 

If your student is ill, we know you want to be there for them. We also understand that it can be frustrating when a student is getting care from providers they do not know. Many parents and guardians may find it frustrating when their student is seen at the SHC and the provider cannot speak with them about their student’s assessment or plan of care. 

Please understand that we encourage families to collaborate with us in their student’s care. However, we legally cannot share information about a student’s visit unless the student signs a release form giving permission to speak with an emergency contact such as a parent or guardian.  If you would like to speak with your student’s provider about the current situation, the best thing you can do is have your student sign a medical release or consent form

To speak with a provider about a specific visit, please have your student fill out the Medical Record Release Form. Your student should write in your contact information and specify the date of the visit they would like us to speak with you about, or allow 1 year from the date of the signature to speak with you about medical visits.  Please note that students may waive the release of information at any time.

During this time of remote summer learning, we are offering phone consultations and telemedicine appointments in order to provide the best care while promoting the safety of our GW community. Our phone triage is available 24/7 for medical and mental health concerns by calling 202-994-5300 to be connected to a clinician or counselor. 

For more information on GW’s response to COVID-19, please click here.

An important part of a student’s college experience involves learning about how to manage their health and to be an effective advocate for their health concerns. For some students, this could mean learning how to make and keep a medical appointment, understanding how to get a prescription filled at a pharmacy, or how to give a provider the important details of their health/medication history. The SHC staff is dedicated to helping students navigate this developmental process while a student is enrolled. 

  • As students prepare to depart for college, here are a few tips that families may want to put into practice to start students thinking about how to manage their health:
  • Encourage your student to call and make their next medical appointment and obtain general information about the appointment;
  • Review the basics of your insurance plan with your student, providing copies of his or her medical, prescription drug, dental, and/or vision insurance cards;
  • Discuss any requirements for pre-approval, when to notify the insurance company following hospitalization or emergency room care, and the difference between "in-network" and "out-of-network" care;
  • Discuss any seasonal, food, or drug allergies and personal and family medical histories, ensuring that your student can provide this information to a provider;
  • Discuss the resources on campus and the services (psychotherapy, eating disorders, chronic medical conditions) that may be provided by a local professional in the community;
  • Send your student to college with a basic first aid kit including a thermometer and over-the-counter medications like a topical antibiotic, Benadryl, Claritin/Zyrtec/Allegra, Pepcid, Emetrol, Acetaminophen/Ibuprofen. 
  • Encourage your student to contact the directors of the SHC themselves if they are not satisfied with our service before calling home. We take student concerns seriously.

Working together, we can help your student:

  • Develop skills to understand and participate in decisions concerning their personal health care;
  • Acquire knowledge on how to access medical and mental health services, the cost of care, and the necessity for health insurance;
  • Recognize and engage in healthy behaviors to reduce the risk of illness and injury.

Students may initially be hesitant about seeking counseling. Reassure your student that many students utilize our counseling and mental health resources. Tell them, directly and clearly, why you think counseling could be helpful for their long-term health and well-being may encourage them to seek the help they need. 

  • Review information about the counseling process with your student using the CAPS website. Emphasize that services are confidential and free.
  • Suggest that your student attend at least one session before judging whether counseling is helpful or not.
  • Point out that using appropriate resources and addressing problems rather than avoiding them is a sign of strength and maturity.
  • Except in cases of imminent danger to self or others, it is important to allow your student to make their own decision about seeking services. Just because they don’t follow through immediately doesn’t mean that your suggestions are not being considered.
  • If your student would be more comfortable seeking counseling from an off-campus provider, we can assist them with referrals. Suggest your student call our office at 202- 994-5300 and ask to speak with our case manager.
  • For crisis situations, counselors are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by phone at 202-994-5300.

How to Support Your Student from a Distance

  • Communicate regularly and with loving support. Even though your student may be experimenting with increased independence, it’s important to stay in touch. Talk about feelings, concerns, differences of opinion, etc.
  • Be an active listener. Ask clarifying questions and offer reflective statements. Try to see situations from your student’s perspective.
  • Show that you can tolerate conflict and change.
  • Understand that your student may not be readily available at all times. GW is an academically challenging institution. When your student tells you that they can’t talk because they are studying, it’s likely that they are.
  • Expect, normalize, and acknowledge conflicting emotions, changes, and feelings related to the transition to college.
  • Expect changes in your relationship with your student. Change is inevitable during this important developmental stage in your student’s life. It’s usually better to try to accept this and work to facilitate positive changes in the relationship rather than attempt to prevent change from occurring.
  • Be alert to signs of stress. Stress is a normal part of student life in college. However, increased stress that persists over time may interfere with students’ academic or social functioning.

Signs of Distress

Changes are normal while students adjust to life in college. However, if your student is struggling, you may notice some of the following signs:

  • Changes in Academic Performance
    • Decline in academic performance
    • Excessive absences from class
    • Confusion or uncertainty about interest, abilities or values
  • Unusual Behavior
    • Listlessness, lack of energy, complaints about fatigue
    • Marked changes in personal hygiene
    • Impaired speech or disjointed, confused thoughts
    • Aggressive or threatening behavior
    • Extreme mood changes or inappropriate displays of emotion
    • Excessive crying
    • Dramatic weight loss or gain
    • Preoccupation with food or body image
    • Bizarre behavior indicating a loss of contact with reality
  • Changes in Relationships 
    • Death of a family member or close friend
    • Difficulties in romantic relationships
    • Problems with family members, friends or roommates
    • Extreme isolation
    • Becoming too dependent on one relationship at the expense of previously important connections with others
  • References to Suicide
    • Overt references to suicide
    • Statements of hopelessness or helplessness
    • Indications of prolonged unhappiness
    • Pessimism about the future

How to Respond

  • Talk to your student as soon as you notice something unusual, don’t ignore atypical or disturbing behavior.
  • Express your concern in a caring manner and indicate the specific behaviors that are causing you to be concerned.
  • Use “I” language that focuses on what you have noticed or what you are feeling.
  • Talk to your student in private when you both have enough time for a conversation.
  • Listen attentively and avoid being critical or judgmental.
  • Encourage positive action by helping your student define the problem and possible ways of handling it.
  • Avoid the temptation to solve the problem for them.
  • Ask directly how you can best help.
  • Know your limits as a helper. Parents can do a lot, but sometimes professional help is needed.






The SHC gets many inquiries regarding health care directives/medical power of attorney. A medical directive is a document that allows a person to state what they want for medical care if unable to make the decision themselves or appoints someone to make decisions for them – for instance, if they’re unconscious. 


The SHC cannot provide advice on whether or not your family should pursue one.  This is a conversation to have with your family and, possibly, a legal professional. If your student does have an existing medical directive, we do not need a copy. It should be kept on file with your family in a safe and accessible place where it can be delivered to a hospital, if needed.