Moosh - college student with ESA

If you’re heading off to college, you probably have a lot of things you’re worried about. Living away from home for the first time can be scary no matter what, but it can be even more challenging if you struggle with mental health problems. Having an emotional support animal (a pet that provides support for a mental health issue) can be a huge help. If you already have an ESA, you might be wondering, “Can I bring my ESA to college with me?” For the most part, the answer to this question is yes, but there are several hoops you’ll probably have to jump through in order to bring them along with you. Keep reading for everything you need to know about college students and ESAs.

Has there been an increase in ESAs on campus?

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of students who are requesting that their ESAs be allowed to live with them in their college dorms. This is due to a number of factors, including more students being diagnosed with a mental illness than in the past, and the reduction of the stigma of both mental illness and ESAs. Students are also often more likely to already be involved in treatment for things like anxiety and depression when they enroll in school than with previous generations of students.

Additionally, because colleges have tried to increase support for students who are struggling with mental illness symptoms, more students are reaching out for help. Since students are more confident that their emotional needs will be met, they’re heading to college despite their struggles. On top of mental health diagnoses and increasing pressure to overachieve, many students of the current generation are also facing trouble adjusting to young adult life, so an ESA can help them still feel supported while they’re living on their own for the first time.

Moosh - person with ESA kitten
Image by Jonas Vincent on Unsplash: ESA cats can help reduce anxiety and depression for college students.

ESAs (ranging from dogs and cats to rodents and reptiles) have been shown to reduce their owners’ anxiety levels, boost their moods, and allow them to function at a higher level – all of which can be invaluable to a student’s success. Studies have also indicated that ESAs can help students with their mental health struggles. Colleges aren’t just imagining the increase in emotional support animals in college. For example, back in 2011, Washington State University used to receive two or three requests for ESAs. In the past several years, those numbers have increased to between 60 and 75 requests every year.

What are the laws surrounding ESAs on college campuses?

Right now, there are no laws that specifically allow you to bring your ESA to any public place. Because they’re not service animals, they aren’t permitted everywhere. However, most college campuses are willing to work with students so that they can bring their ESAs with them into class. There is a law that allows ESAS to live in your dorm with you. The Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 allow students to have their ESA with them in the dorm (even if the school has a no-pets policy).

Several lawsuits have taken place where students have sued their school over the right to have their ESA live with them. This has resulted in most schools becoming more accepting of ESAs living on campus. So, for the most part, a college student’s emotional support dog should be allowed to live in on-campus housing.

What do you need to do to bring your ESA to school?

In order to create a good working relationship with your school, you should consult with them well before you’ve moved onto campus. Meeting with the folks in charge of housing (or a related department), as well as the student health center, can help you ensure everyone is on the same page regarding your ESA. Some schools have banned specific (more exotic) animals, so you’ll need to make sure that your ESA is permitted before you move in. Also, you’ll likely need to bring a letter from your mental health professional that specifically states why you require the use of an ESA. Some schools also require students to write personal statements explaining their needs and why their ESA helps them. There could also be some forms you’ll need to sign to verify that your ESA is healthy, well-trained, and won’t endanger any other students or staff members.

During your school year, it’s possible that the school will want to check in with you to make sure you’re still complying with housing rules and that your ESA isn’t causing any damage to the dorm itself. You’ll also likely need to re-inform the school of your need for an ESA at the beginning of each academic year. And don’t forget to keep your ESA certification up to date (they expire annually), so that your documentation is good to go whenever a school official needs to look at it.

Moosh - college girl with puppy
Image by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash: ESAs living on college campuses can help their owners to better cope with stress.

How can you be respectful of other students?

If you’re living in a dorm or other on-campus housing, you’ll want to ensure that you’re always staying respectful of those around you. This means having an ESA who’s loud or disruptive won’t work out very well. To start, if you’re going to be living with a roommate, you should let your school know as early as possible that you’ll be bringing an ESA with you. They’ll need to figure out arrangements that will accommodate both your and your roommate’s needs. ESAs in college dorms can actually be a good thing for everyone, since your fellow dormmates can also take in the love and support your ESA offers! Just make sure your ESA is well-behaved and won’t disturb the people you’re living with, and you should be fine to have your ESA with you in the dorms.

Check with your school to find out their policies regarding ESAs and then follow all the necessary steps to ensure you and your ESA are welcome on campus and in the dorms. Then you’ll be able to enjoy the support your ESA offers you without worrying about any pesky red tape. College should be a fun period in your life, so use your ESA to your advantage and get the support you need to succeed.

Featured image by Erica Magugliani on Unsplash