What are Your Rights while in College/University?



The transition between high school and college can be tough for any student. For many, college is the first time you are on your own and are responsible for taking care of yourself. You will have more freedom in choosing how you schedule your day-to-day life than ever before, even while your college will expect more from you in your classes and extracurricular activities. The transition can be even more difficult when you have OCD/anxiety. However, there’s good news — there are many things you can do to make your transition to and time at college that much easier. With the proper planning and resources, it’s entirely possible to enjoy your college experience while keeping your OCD/anxiety in check.

For college students, learning how to self-advocate is an essential part in helping you thrive in your new environment by being able to leverage resources and tools that are available to you. You are your own best advocate — no one knows what you need better than you, the person who has had to live with your symptoms on a day-to-day basis. 

It’s important to familiarize yourself with your rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures equal access and opportunities to individuals with several kinds of disabilities that hinder major life activities. These laws provide you protection and require private and public institutions to make certain reasonable accommodations (“Learn about ADA,” n.d.). 

Under the ADA, colleges are not required to give you any aid or accommodations unless you inform them that you have a disability. This means that you — along with your family and therapist, if you have one — will be responsible for starting the process of seeking out and receiving accommodations that will help you succeed (“Reasonable Accommodations Explained,” n.d.). 

Each college has its own procedures on how to receive accommodations, so be sure to contact your school’s disability center in advance to see if they need anything specific from you (“Managing a Mental Health Condition,” n.d.).

To get what you need from your college, however, you should be prepared to:

Remember that OCD/anxiety symptoms can wax and wane over time — your symptoms may become mild enough to have an accommodation, or other symptoms may flare up that require new accommodations. In other cases, you may find that the aid you are receiving simply isn’t as effective as it could be. If, as the semester goes on, you find that you want to stop using an accommodation or request a new one, don’t hesitate to contact your disabilities office (“Managing a Mental Health Condition,” n.d.).

It's important to remember to advocate for yourself. If you have established accommodations with your college and experience a delay in receiving them, don’t hesitate to speak up and ask questions. Respectfully follow up and make sure you are getting what you need from your school.

Disclosing: Who should know?

For the purpose of obtaining accommodations, you will need to disclose your OCD/anxiety to the school personnel that need to know — such as the disability resource center staff, your academic advisor, and/or an admission officer. You can also ask your college about their confidentiality policies to better understand rules around disclosing to faculty (Managing a Mental Health Condition,” n.d).

However, disclosing to anyone outside of the school personnel that are on a “need to know” basis is completely up to you. You have the freedom to decide what information you want to share and whom you choose to share it with.

What if I need to take a leave of absence?

Before taking a leave it’s important to know that you also have the option of deferring. Many schools, when accepted, allow you to defer your acceptance for one semester or a year with no reason given.

The decision to take some time off from school is not an easy one. If you are currently working with a licensed mental health professional to combat your OCD/anxiety, staying in school may actually be helpful for your treatment. College will present you with a number of triggers that will give you the experience and the practice you (alongside a mental health professional) will need in order to deal with the anxiety that OCD/anxiety creates. If your symptoms become too severe, however, you may need to take some time away from school to recover. When this happens, you have the option of taking a medical leave (“Medical Leaves of Absence,” n.d.). 

Each college has its own policies on how they handle leaves of absence. You should talk to your academic advisor or the Dean of Students office (“Managing a Mental Health Condition,” n.d.). 

Before you take a leave of absence:

Below is a sample of things you should find out when you’re taking a leave of absence.

  • Many colleges will require a student to reapply if they are not registered as a full- or part-time student for a long enough period of time. How long will your college allow you to be on leave before they need you to reapply?
  • Going on leave once the semester has already started will have an effect on the classes you are taking. You should ask if you will need to take incompletes on these courses or if your school will let you retroactively withdraw. Will your college refund you the tuition for these courses, or will you have to pay a partial amount?
  • How will a medical leave affect any financial aid you’re receiving? Will it have any impact on when you are expected to begin paying off your loans, and if so, is it possible to get a grace period while you’re on medical leave? Talk to your school’s Office of Financial Aid to find out more (“Managing a Mental Health Condition,” n.d.).

Before you return:

Before returning to school, you must have an administrative official approve your re-entry. It may be helpful to talk to your advisor or the Dean of Students Office about how your college handles that decision, along with what they would require from you (“Managing a Mental Health Condition,” n.d.).

Note that colleges can, in some situations, require students to take a leave of absence. They can only do so, however, under extreme circumstances — a college must prove that the student is a danger to themself before they are allowed to put them on mandatory leave. (“Managing a Mental Health Condition”, n.d.)


It is important to know your rights when it comes to mental health coverage. Per healthcare.gov, if your caregivers’ insurance covers dependents, you can remain on their plan until you are 26. If you're in school, you may be able to enroll in a student health plan — and meet the requirement for having coverage under the health care law. You can even pick a "Catastrophic" health plan as a way to protect yourself mainly from worst-case scenarios. If you’re over 26, click here to learn how you can get your own healthcare coverage.

If you would like to know more about your rights and understand your health coverage that you have, click here. Lastly, don’t forget to reach out to your health center at school/university.

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