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Recovery can be a great time to move forward with education and career goals. Whether you are going to college for the first time or returning to higher education, the choice can improve your long-term career prospects and satisfaction. However, people overcoming chemical dependency have unique challenges (and some advantages) that can seem daunting considered all at once. Navigating a campus can also be anxiety-inducing, but having a plan can help. 

You should also know you’re not alone. Nearly 50% of those attending college meet the criteria for substance use disorder (SUD). These figures are even higher for all college-aged adults, but studying can help establish a routine in recovery while working towards longer-term goals. Today, we will start with some basics of the process. Selecting the right program, using your available resources, and preventing burnout that threatens your sobriety can help you approach college appropriately and successfully.

Getting In: Choosing the Right College in Recovery

Selecting the right college for your recovery depends on both history and type of education to fit your career and personal needs. Perhaps you already have a career in mind. If not, you may wish to narrow it down to fields of interest. It’s okay to explore before declaring a major. Above all, you want to be sure you feel comfortable in the environment and academic quality. Small class sizes may appeal to some, while others may look for specific programs or resources from their college experience. 

You can also fact-check the university’s claims. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about job placement, campus culture, or trajectories of careers of interest for alumni. Alumni groups where you can speak without representatives of the institution present allow the opportunity to ask honest questions and expect honest answers. Remember, you are just as much of an asset to the college as it can be to you.

Many students in recovery stress excessively about paying for college. However, what you may not be aware of are the many options that don’t require raiding your own pockets. Grants are awarded funds you do not have to pay back. Undergraduate students should be aware that student aid is available based on income. Those in graduate school may be eligible for subsidized loans, as well. Learning your eligibility for the major state and federal grants is as simple as filling out a free online application

Be aware that students under a certain age or who financially depend on their parents will be assessed by their parent’s income. All students, however, can apply for scholarships. Scholarships may require an essay or simply meeting certain criteria that can include historically disadvantaged student demographics, grade averages, or participation in a particular activity. Fortunately, there are scholarships available explicitly for students with SUD history.

Balancing College Life and Your Recovery Needs

Making and setting achievable goals is crucial to long-term recovery. For this reason, new students and those who have taken long breaks from education may wish to start small. This is not a bad idea for anyone taking courses while managing SUD, particularly those balancing other obligations such as work or family on top. 

Even if you aren’t sure what you want to study or become professionally, you can begin with the basic courses required for most degree plans. Nearly every university will require some math, composition, sciences, language, and history or cultural studies as prerequisites for moving on with a degree plan.

Financially savvy students may opt to take these courses at a community or junior college with the intention of transferring the credits to a four-year program. If you already know a subject well, you may be able to test out of taking the course. Advising staff exists to help students select the correct courses and offer guidance. Your advisor will likely also have vocational training and career resources as well.

As a general rule, returning to school on a part-time basis for at least the first semester allows you to prioritize self-care and recovery. Time management skills can be difficult to learn but are easier with less on your plate. Whether you opt to use meetings, therapists, or alternative programs, block out time for yourself and sobriety-affirming activities. Commit to certain hours for school and minimum requirements if you struggle with structure or find yourself becoming overwhelmed.

Using Resources for Students in SUD Recovery

With the ever-rising population of students in recovery, it is little surprise that supportive programming is becoming more pervasive. Indeed, there are SUD-specific centers and even entirely sober campuses. Research in the student affairs sector shows that mental health and SUD measures can be highly effective on any campus. Faculty for students with disabilities, including mental health disorders, are particularly valuable for dual diagnosis clients. These specialists see substance misuse frequently but are highly supportive of students facing this challenge.

Depending on your situation, you may be able to get services like the ability to use a testing center, extra time to complete work or exams, and other reasonable accommodations. This process is easier when your doctor or treatment team is advocating for you.

Seek out both your peers in recovery and official university offerings. Sober lounges are increasingly common on campuses. More schools include offices to help students overcome SUD-related challenges in college. If your school is smaller, you may be able to use the resources of a larger state or private college in your area. Everyone needs appropriate support. Select friends wisely, keep your promises to yourself, and you will soon be developing self-worth and new interests.

At West Coast Recovery Centers, we are here to support your recovery as well as your personal, career, and education goals. Our team of professionals includes counselors, therapists, and clinicians that have assisted people just like you. We embrace any person seeking help and acknowledge that life skills are critical to develop. Our outpatient recovery program offers access to multiple modalities of therapy as well as social support structures. At West Coast Recovery Centers, you forge your own path to recovery. We embrace many spiritual and secular programs, permit medication where appropriately prescribed and desired, and assist with real-life concerns. Our centers embrace people of all backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations. Call (760) 492-6509 to learn more today.

West Coast Recovery Centers ( 370135CP), Valid through July 31, 2025
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