Counseling can be an important step to achieving personal well-being, particularly during the life-changing years of university. It’s therefore reassuring to know that this is recognized by various forward-thinking colleges and universities across the U.S. that want their students to be happy and healthy in addition to earning good grades.
As a result, schools nationwide have established leading wellness centers that give advice and assistance on everything from nutritional health to alcohol, drug and tobacco use. Furthermore, the best of these centers excel not only because of their counseling services, but also since they’re complemented by state-of-the-art sports and fitness facilities, quite often in innovative, environmentally conscious settings. It’s these institutions that arguably take the overall well-being of their student body most seriously, and here are 30 that are leading the way.
To find entries for this article, we initially looked for similar lists of the top student wellness centers in the U.S. However, as these were lacking, we searched for lists of the best student recreation centers nationwide, with Men’s Health’s “The Coolest College Recreation Centers in America” in particular pointing us in the direction of those universities that possess exceptional wellness and fitness facilities. This gave us an initial idea as to which institutions might be setting a course for others to follow with their wellness provisions. Athletic Business magazine’s annual awards for “Facilities of Merit” additionally acted as a guide to those student wellness or health centers that excel in some respect.
We also established the criteria by which a student wellness center might be seen to be leading the way – especially through its counseling offerings, but also thanks to measures such as exceptional fitness amenities and outstanding eco-friendly building features. However, all centers chosen needed to have at least some counseling element or counseling services on hand. Taking these criteria and the lists mentioned above into consideration, we searched schools’ websites and the dedicated web pages of their wellness or health centers to ascertain and select those facilities that stand out as the best in the country.
Having opened its doors in January 2014, the shiny new Vanderbilt Recreation and Wellness Center replaced Vanderbilt University’s old Student Recreation Center. Central to the Nashville, Tennessee-based complex’s appeal are its improved exercise facilities and longer opening hours, while new features include international standard squash courts, larger spaces for weight training and cardiovascular exercise, a running track with eight lanes, and an indoor practice field. A further addition is the center’s Demonstration Kitchen, where students can learn the art of eating healthily from professional nutritionists. The Life Phase Series, meanwhile, is a monthly program to “support a well-balanced life” through planning sessions and lawn yoga classes.
Since it opened its doors in 2010, Drexel University’s Recreation Center has received its fair share of honors, including a 2011 Outstanding Sports Facility Award from the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association. The 85,900-square-foot, $40.2 million center won’t disappoint students at the Philadelphia-based school looking for a fitness fix, either. Its top-class facilities include 18,000 square feet of exercise space packed with state-of-the-art equipment, a six-lane pool, a 13,000-square-foot gym and a pair of professional-standard squash courts. Plus, nutritional wellness is a priority, with what the center describes on its website as “master dieticians” providing healthy eating advice and cooking tips and tricks.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) is huge. In fact, at 340,000 square feet, it’s one of the biggest campus-based recreation facilities in the U.S. Consequently, you’d expect some impressive features at the Champaign-located complex – and with four gyms, two 50-meter pools, a dozen racquetball courts and a 35-capacity sauna, it doesn’t disappoint. And if that weren’t enough, there’s also an indoor running track and a purpose-built climbing wall. Elsewhere, among the center’s most forward-thinking provisions is an instructional kitchen, which combines learning how to cook healthily with expert nutritional advice. Originally opened in 1971 but renovated in 2008, the ARC additionally provides wellness services that help students cope with issues relating to stress, fitness, nutrition, sexual health and finances, while the facility has also implemented a quit smoking initiative.
Washington University in St. Louis’ Habif Health & Wellness Center is located within the Nathan Dardick House dorm building on the school’s St. Louis campus. As a result, students living in the building don’t have to walk far to access top-quality healthcare and wellness facilities – and the center counts pharmaceutical, women’s health and radiology services among its many provisions. Mental health services are extensive here, too, with the center able to accommodate both individual and group counseling. In addition, a specialist eating disorders treatment unit is on hand, while a series of health and wellbeing workshops aim to help attendees develop better self-esteem and to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Colby College in Waterville, Maine may be relatively small in size, with only 1,850 students, but the school’s Garrison-Foster Health Center rivals those of larger academic institutions thanks to its impressive range of counseling provisions. Experts are on hand to help with issues relating to alcohol or substance abuse, while nutrition counseling is designed to assist students who may have eating disorders. Those concerned about their mental health, meanwhile, can draw on psychiatric assessment services, and a support group exists for the college’s LGBT community and those questioning their sexual orientation. Furthermore, a nutrition consultant is at the ready to encourage students to adopt more wholesome diets, while physical ailments can be seen to by the center’s rehabilitation department and general medical, nursing and women’s health services.
“Honestly, there are simply too many wonderful features in this building to pick just one,” exclaimed Debra Hammond, California State University Northridge’s student union executive director. What’s more, she’s not the only one to have lavished praise on the $41 million, 138,000-square-foot Student Recreation Center, which opened in 2012; the Northridge-based center has also been the recipient of an Athletic Business magazine Facility of Merit Award. As for the facility’s standout features, they include a 40-foot climbing wall, volleyball, basketball and badminton courts, a pair of outdoor pools, and a gym packed with cardio and weightlifting equipment. Furthermore, trained student nutritionists are on hand to offer their peers healthy eating tips.
The newly expanded Student Recreation Center at the University of Colorado Boulder was greeted by a rapturous reception when it reopened in early 2014. One impressed student tweeted, “The new rec center is the most beautiful thing on this planet and I’m never leaving,” while another praised the center’s basketball amenities, writing, “Hands down coolest courts I’ve ever seen.” Indeed, approximately 5,000 students visited daily in its first week after reopening – and it’s hardly surprising, given the center’s wealth of facilities. These include a 10,000-square-foot gym, four pools (both indoor and outdoor), indoor rock climbing, six volleyball, basketball or badminton courts, and Boulder’s only ice rink. In addition, the facility’s Wellness Suite promotes healthy lifestyles among students through its specialist nutrition, musculoskeletal and flu clinics.
What helps the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center excel is its broad range of specialty clinics, which seem to rival those of any off-campus healthcare institution. Everything from rheumatology and gastroenterology to podiatry and neurology is dealt with in house, giving UCLA students ample opportunity to address numerous mental or physical health issues – something made easier thanks to the establishment of the “24/7 Nurseline” phone service. Disease prevention advice is also provided at the 40,000-square-foot center, which was built in 1993. In addition, the facility is equipped for acupuncture and massage therapies via the Ashe Mind Body Clinic, where expert practitioners specialize in pain relief and overall student health.
The Health and Wellness Center is a $36.7 million, state-of-the-art hub for healthcare, fitness and research that opened on Florida State University’s Tallahassee campus in 2012. Another complex that’s leading the way, it hosts a remarkable number of facilities within its 170,632-square-foot premises. Along with an urgent care department, dental services and a radiology and X-ray laboratory, there’s an array of extra provisions aimed at keeping Florida State students healthy and well, including diabetes management and physical therapy. Foreign travel and dive clinics prepare those heading overseas or underwater, while psychiatric services are there to help students maintain good mental health. The center even acts as a nucleus for teaching, with nursing classrooms and a first responders training facility contained within.
The Student Health and Wellness Center on the campus of the University of California, Davis has a host of facilities intended to keep its users happy and healthy. Among them are psychiatric services and what the school describes as a “Mind Spa” – an antidote to the stress of exams and deadlines, complete with massaging recliners and guided meditation audio programs. However, where the center really leads the way is on the design front, as it is equally kind to the environment. The 75,300-square-foot complex was opened in 2010 at a cost of $34.9 million, and it achieved LEED Gold status in 2012. The facility incorporates innovative green design features such as building-high glass walls on its north side that help reduce the need for artificial lighting by utilizing the sun’s rays. What’s more, a chilled beam system cuts down on energy use, while water-conserving fixtures are found in the building’s bathrooms.
According to California State University, Long Beach Student Union director Dave Edwards, the school’s Student Recreation and Wellness Center (SRWC) is a big hit with its users. As quoted in Recreation Management magazine, he revealed, “It is quite common to hear students comment about how much they enjoy the SRWC programs and facility. One student recently stated, ‘This facility makes me so proud to go to school here. I can’t wait to tell my friends from other schools.’” And the center’s myriad of cutting-edge amenities makes it worthy of such praise. A 20,000-square-foot fitness-cum-cardio center, a trio of racquetball courts, a three-part gym, a pool and even sand volleyball courts are just some of the features of the complex. Its Beach Balance scheme, moreover, offers nutrition counseling and a stress-relieving biofeedback program. The center opened in 2010 at a cost of $48.9 million and covers 251,135 square feet, including outdoor areas.
Although a trip to the dentist is rarely savored, one Athens-based University of Georgia student revealed on the University Health Center website that they “look forward to dental visits” at the facility. They added that dentists’ “professional delivery is a model for not only college settings, but for any community.” Teeth aren’t the sole priority at the center, though, with over a dozen specialty care clinics and units – that cover areas from dermatology to sports medicine – ensuring a full package of physical wellness services. In addition, there’s a dedicated health promotion department; complete with cross-campus activities, classroom outreach presentations and expert health educators, it guarantees that the center’s healthy living message is spread far and wide. Psychiatric appraisal and medication monitoring, meanwhile, were added to the list of services following a $17 million expansion that took place in 2009.
North Carolina State University’s Student Health Center takes the mental well-being of its students seriously, providing those enrolled at the Raleigh-based school with a comprehensive selection of counseling options. As well as more generalized individual and group services, there are specific sessions for mature students adjusting to campus life and for younger learners confused about their career paths. Stress management and meditation workshops are on the agenda, too, while the center also takes part in the nationwide Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) program for suicide prevention. The LEED Gold-certified building – which covers a 33,800-square-foot area and cost $6.1 million – additionally accommodates medical and healthcare services to ensure that North Carolina State students are in good shape from head to toe.
In 2012 the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Recreation Center was honored with a Facility of Merit Award from Athletic Business magazine, with one judge praising its “light and elegant” interior. The facilities at the 120,000-square-foot Amherst-based complex are worthy of acclaim as well: its 24,000-square-foot gym contains 140 items of weight and cardio equipment, while there’s also room for four badminton and volleyball courts and six basketball courts. Handball, squash and aquatics amenities are accommodated here, too, and this goes some way to explaining why the center – which opened in 2010 – cost $38 million. A further feature is the facility’s Wellness Center, which advises students on healthy eating choices and initiates support programs covering substance abuse, stress and quitting smoking.
Located in the school’s Memorial Union building, the University of Maine’s Student Wellness Resource Center goes above and beyond to ensure students benefit from its many services. Outreach programs are plentiful – and chief among these is the center’s inventive Medical Amnesty and Good Samaritan Program, which urges students to watch over and look after those suffering alcohol-based medical emergencies without fear of consequence. The facility at the Orono, Maine school also boasts Campus and Community Task Forces, including a coalition on alcohol, drug and tobacco use – issues additionally tackled by the center’s classroom presentations. Furthermore, those aiming to give up smoking can profit from specialist advice and counseling, while the center even offers “hazing prevention education and training” to help combat what it terms “a serious and hidden problem on [the] campus.”
As The University of Iowa’s website explained just before the school’s Campus Recreation & Wellness Center opened in 2010, the Iowa City-based building “was designed as a student recreation facility, [but] it offers much more.” Spread over an area of 215,000 square feet, the $70 million complex contains amenities to satisfy even the most demanding fitness fanatic. Among these facilities are a professional-standard pool, a pair of full-sized basketball courts, a climbing wall that’s over 52 feet tall, and a three-story gym with in excess of 20,000 square feet of floor space – plus great views of Gibson Square and Burlington Street below. To cater for all aspects of students’ well-being, the center also accommodates a Wellness Services wing, which counsels and educates on issues such as eating healthily, coping with stress, the dangers of alcohol and drug use, and how to give up smoking.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Student Recreation and Wellness Center opened its doors in 2007, with the 187,617-square-foot facility having cost almost $44 million. Thanks to that outlay, though, students at the Paradise, Nevada-based school have access to an impressive range of health and wellness facilities, including fitness and aquatic areas, space for sports and dance, and what one student has praised as “the best gym in the state.” What’s more, a relaxation room featuring massage chairs can be found within the center’s “Rebel Wellness Zone,” which also provides fitness assessments and certified dietician consultations. Alongside all this, the Student Counseling and Psychological Services department is located within the building, offering free group, couple and individual counseling sessions to students at the school.
New York University students’ minds and bodies are expertly looked after at the school’s impressive Student Health Center, located in New York City. The facility’s far-reaching healthcare services – providing what the school describes as “accessible, high-quality medical care” – means it’s the first port of call for any student who’s in need at the university. As well as urgent and primary care assistance, the center boasts optometry and radiology departments, HIV counseling and testing, allergy and immunology tests, and across-the-board women’s health services. A nutrition advisory service is also at hand, while mental health counseling, a designated yoga room and cutting-edge psychiatric medication management promote students’ emotional well-being.
Pittsburgh University’s Mark A. Nordenberg Hall is home to the school’s Wellness Center, which is made up of the counseling department and student health resources. Collectively, these offer comprehensive wellness services covering individual and group therapy, psychology, sexual assault, and alcohol and drug dependency. Some mental health services and outreach programs, meanwhile, are delivered by “peer educators” – essentially, suitably qualified students. Besides this, through professional support programs the school’s Talk About It initiative strives to lessen the stigma tied up with depression, while the center’s dedicated Stress Free Zone offers schemes designed to combat physical and emotional strain. These methods are centered around “mindfulness meditation,” an attention-focused practice that attunes students to “the present moment.”
University of Miami students wishing to take care of both their bodies and minds need look no further than the Coral Gables-based school’s exceptional Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center. Opened in 1996, the 138,000-square-foot facility boasts a huge 18,000-square-foot gym, three indoor basketball courts, indoor pitches for soccer and hockey, cycling and Pilates studios, and a running track. It also features two saunas, a spa and a juice bar for students to relax in after their grueling workouts. Wellness services are plentiful, too, ranging from counseling and computer-driven diet analysis to advice on how to give up smoking. Still, perhaps the Florida center’s most innovative scheme is its Canes4Play program, which fosters improved mental health by promoting the benefits of activities like hopscotch, doodling and playing with Lego, not to mention stress-busting arts and crafts sessions.
Arizona State University’s Tempe-based Health Service Building ushered in a new era of eco-friendly college healthcare when it was completed in 2012. Indeed, the 34,000-square-foot complex has been awarded LEED Platinum status thanks to its numerous green features. These include a series of solar panels that offset 39 percent of the facility’s energy bills, as well as the distinctive overhanging roof the panels are positioned on, which helps to maximize shade and regulate the structure’s temperature. Additionally, a low-flow system has reduced drinking water consumption by almost a third. Just as impressive, though, is the center’s array of health and wellness services – including primary care, ear, nose and throat treatment, orthopedics, sports medicine, and nutrition counseling.
One student has praised Pomona College’s Student Health Service (SHS) as being “an excellent resource on campus for most college illnesses,” explaining that “the doctors and nurses were professional, helpful… and generally wanted to help the students who came in with any number of ailments.” SHS is based within the Robert E. Tranquada Student Services Center on the school’s Claremont, California campus, and the service specializes in supporting students’ physical as well as mental health. The latter is overseen by Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services – which, in addition to offering counseling and psychiatric sessions, works in tandem with SHS and the college’s Health Education Outreach program on Pomona’s Eating Disorder Task Force. Monsour also hosts a support network for LGBT students and a “survivors” group for victims of abuse.
For those unable to access the University of Florida’s more traditionally delivered counseling sessions, the Gainesville-based institution’s Counseling and Wellness Center, opened in 2010, has an innovative solution. The center’s Therapist Assisted Online initiative allows students suffering with anxiety issues to receive counseling via video conferencing. It has even been suggested that the process – which also involves videos and exercises for patients – has led to better results than the center’s regular in-person service. There are still plenty of facilities for those who prefer to drop in to the 22,550-square-foot, $6.5 million complex, though. The facility boasts an exceptional range of therapy groups, including options for those who have experienced stress, depression or bereavement, as well as sessions that specifically cater to LGBT and black female members, respectively, of the university’s student community.
Auburn, Alabama’s Auburn University gave its students a state-of-the-art complex in which to relax and play when the school’s Recreation and Wellness Center formally opened its doors in August 2013. The $72 million, 240,000-square-foot facility has been described as “world class” by one member of the university’s staff, and its incredible array of fitness and sporting options – including the longest indoor running circuit in the country – certainly point in this direction. Shaped to resemble a tiger’s paw, an impressive hot tub that can accommodate 45 people is perfect for some downtime, as is the center’s open-air indoor courtyard – a restful area incorporating plant life and a water feature. On the wellness side, a yearly health fair provides students with information and assistance on how to improve their lifestyles, and this includes guidance relating to mental wellbeing and alcohol awareness.
The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus believes there are “nine dimensions of wellness.” These cover more traditional notions of physical and emotional health, as well as financial, social and intellectual well-being elements that its students should bear in mind in order to be at their best. Accordingly, the school’s Student Wellness Center – which was formally established in 1995 and since 2005 has been located within OSU’s Recreation & Physical Activity Center – takes an innovative broad approach to student health. Meetings are available for those recovering from addiction, while wellness-coaching sessions aimed at empowering individuals are there for those dealing with stress, academic anxiety and relationship concerns. Sexual violence awareness and prevention programs also take place at the center; plus, there’s nutrition coaching, not to mention a financial education and assistance scheme to help students better manage their money.
The Wellness Resource Center on the University of Missouri’s (MU) Columbia campus certainly seems to be leading the way when it comes to alcohol awareness. In 2007 the school’s program was named the best of its kind nationwide by The Coalition of Higher Education Associations for Substance Abuse Prevention. The U.S. Department of Education, together with the Higher Education Center, furthermore listed the program as a “model” prevention initiative in 1999, 2006 and 2010. Nutrition and fitness counseling are also on offer at the facility – which is located within the MU Student Center – as is wellness coaching and a quit smoking scheme. Plus, the center’s MUVE (MU Values Exercise and Eating Well) initiative gives students added impetus to look after themselves. How? By setting healthy eating and fitness challenges during the fall and spring semesters and awarding prizes to the best performers.
Northern Arizona University’s Health and Learning Center has been a hugely impressive one-stop shop for students’ wellness and recreational needs since its $83.2 million 2011 development and renovation. The opening of the new 330,000-square-foot building introduced a larger area for counseling services, as well as added counselors and psychiatric provisions. That said, the Flagstaff-based center’s most innovative aspect and greatest selling point is the sheer breadth of its facilities: fitness and recreational spaces all lie inside, as does an urgent care medical clinic and a pharmacy. Besides this, a juice bar and café make it easy to relax and refuel, while what the university terms “added dimensions” are afforded by academic resources like study rooms, lounges and the computer-filled Lumberjack Mathematics Center – which was launched in 2012. With all this inside, it may be difficult for some students to leave the building.
The University of California, Berkeley’s University Health Services – Tang Center is a comprehensive hub for health and wellness of all kinds. In addition to primary and urgent care services, a pharmacy and physical therapy provisions are specialist clinics with a focus on ophthalmology, orthopedics, podiatry and repetitive strain injuries. Dedicated women’s and LGBT services are also available at the center, which began operating out of its present location in 1993. Counseling and mental health services are offered, too; indeed, the Social Services division helps students dealing with problems arising from illness, as well as those coping with eating disorders, alcohol and drug dependency and domestic violence. The Career Counseling Library, meanwhile, is equipped to assist students uncertain about the path ahead.
South Dakota State University’s Wellness Center opened in 2008, and through its counseling services the facility offers a helping hand to students experiencing anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and alcohol or chemical dependency. At the same time, the Brookings-based center aims to create what its website terms a “synergistic wellness environment that compels people to be the best they can be.” Hence, the 74,000-square-foot, $12.1 million complex incorporates not only a slew of fitness and sports programs, but also a family planning facility, individually tailored counseling on optimal nutrition, and a health promotion scheme with attention-grabbing educational features like a sex education boot camp. Through the center’s Helping Everyone Reach Optimal Health program, a special group of student peer educators also uphold the benefits of wellness and adopting healthy lifestyles across the wider community.
The Anschutz Health and Wellness Center sits on the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus. It makes sense, then, that to get results it boasts a host of innovative features utilizing cutting-edge medical research. As the center’s website says of its groundbreaking Human Performance Lab, “You put a lot of heart, soul and sweat into competition. Now you can put a lot of science into it too.” The lab does this with a bespoke program designed for optimal health and fitness performance that has been field tested on elite athletes. Food nutrition coaching is also delivered in an original way via the Aurora-based center’s so-called Grocery Lab, a facility complete with a mini supermarket to inspire more wholesome food choices. What’s more, emotional health needs are catered for through psychological consultations, a biofeedback program, and mindfulness and meditation sessions. The $34 million, 95,000-square-foot center opened in 2012.