“Students enter college in the middle of a triangle of academics, social life, and self-care,” says Elise Phillips, founding director of Boston College’s Office of Health Promotion (OHP). According to conventional wisdom, today’s undergraduates feel so overworked, overwhelmed, overcommitted, and overstimulated, they can only pick two sides of the triangle to pursue, Phillips explained. Grades, friends, wellness—one must suffer, the thinking goes. “But we say you can choose all three.”

The University’s commitment to the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis—care for the whole person’s body, mind, and spirit—supports a rich array of programs and services that enhance your student’s mental, social, physical, spiritual, and academic well-being throughout his or her undergraduate years.

Among Boston College’s signal wellness resources is OHP, a group of staff and student educators, social workers, and nutritionists. Founded in 2011, the health promotion office takes a “holistic approach to health and wellness,” says Phillips, and is “grounded in the belief that if you feel good and you’re able to make choices that educate and empower you, you’re going to be a better person, student, friend, daughter, or son.”

At the center of OHP is its Health Coach Institute, which each year trains and certifies some 80 undergraduate health coaches in one of six specialties: stress management, time management, alcohol, sleep, nutrition, and resilience. Coaches meet either one-on-one or in small groups with students, and work with them to create individualized health plans. The coaches (who engage in some 400 conversations a year) “never give advice,” says Phillips. “We train them in motivational interviewing skills, to have open-ended conversations. When a student has an issue, coaches ask, ‘What have you tried doing? What’s been helpful? What challenges are you having?’ No judgments.” 

Encourage your student to find a community that they are interested in; a support system. If you have an interest, we have something for it.
Elise Phillips, Founding Director of the Office of Health Promotion


“It’s not just an extracurricular. It’s become an identity,” says Michigan native and economics major Rebecca McGeorge ’19, who’s been a health coach since her sophomore year. She now plans to pursue a master’s degree in public health. “Coming to Boston College, you’re away from home, on a new schedule, in a competitive environment, and you worry about the future.” Having a health coach to discuss these concerns is particularly beneficial, says McGeorge, “because it’s much easier to hear these questions from your peers. You don’t really have to explain much for them to understand, because you’re going through it with them.”

OHP also offers an alcohol and drug education program; healthy eating counseling with staff nutritionist Kate Sweeney, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.; and Let’s Talk Health, a yearlong interactive online “health journey” featuring TED Talks, student motivational talks, quizzes, and actions (from keeping a gratitude journal to “plotting your energy throughout the week”). The OHP boasts high student participation with its programs and services each year.

Down the hall from OHP’s office in the lower level of Gasson, students can also visit University Counseling Services (UCS), a team of 25 full-time and affiliated psychiatrists, social workers, post-doctoral fellows, and psychologists dedicated to enhancing the mental health of Boston College students and the BC community. An estimated 1,900 students each year tap one or more UCS resources, which include in-person individual and group therapies and smartphone-based tools such as WellTrack, which helps students monitor their emotions and moods throughout the day (and which is used by more than 1,000 students each year).

Students also have dozens of opportunities to refocus, recharge, and renew off campus at one of the University’s extremely popular student retreats. More than 3,000 undergraduates take part each year in the programs, including several sponsored by the Center for Student Formation, which focuses on helping students integrate their intellectual, social, and spiritual lives. The center offers Halftime, three days of “vocational discernment” at the Connors Family Retreat and Conference Center in Dover, as well as retreats for freshmen, women, men, and LGBTQ and AHANA students. Campus Ministry, meanwhile, hosts seven faith-based retreats, from one that explores “God’s unconditional love” to another dedicated to “Study by the Sea” in Cohasset, before final exams each year.

Phillips also advises parents to help promote their students’ wellness on campus: “Encourage your student to find a community that they are interested in; a support system. If you have an interest, we have something for it,” she adds, noting that there are more than 200 student organizations on campus. “And as a parent you can engage in the same strengths-based conversations as coaches by having open-ended conversations with your student” said Phillips. “Wellness is a journey, and you can journey with them.”

Zachary Jason

University resources for student wellness