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Returning to College in Recovery

You’re in recovery. The fog has lifted and you’re starting to think about what you want in life. You decide you want to go back to college, but you don’t know where to begin. The thought feels so overwhelming and you almost change your mind. Plus, you don’t know how you could possibly go to college and stay sober.

If you choose a college with a Collegiate Recovery Community, the task may be a little easier than you think.

“There is a movement to establish recovery programs on university campuses nationwide,” said Susan Nicholas, board member of the Collegiate Recovery Community at The University of Mississippi. “Each program is a little different, but their purpose is to provide academic support to students in recovery. The University of Mississippi is one of approximately 90 recovery communities that are beginning or operating in the United States.”

Using the University of Mississippi program as an example, this is how a Collegiate Recovery Community helps students in recovery get back on track in their academic careers.

The mission of the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) at the University of Mississippi is to provide recovering students with the resources and support to achieve academic success, to further personal and professional growth, and to have an active and fulfilling collegiate experience without the use of alcohol or drugs.

Approach your Collegiate Recovery Community (re-entering) college.


When you’re ready to go back to college, staff or volunteers with your campus’s Collegiate Recovery Community can help you navigate the admissions process.

“One of the ways that we help students is by walking through the admissions process with them,” Nicholas said. “A lot of steps have to be taken, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. Our board members are available to sit down with students once or twice a week until all of the steps are taken. We don’t do it for you; we just help you break it down into small, manageable steps.”

Among the ways CRC staff or volunteers can help you is in:

  1. Reviewing your academic status if you were previously in college and helping you determine what classes you need to take.
  2. Helping you assess your financial situation, including directing you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and finding other means of financial aid.
  3. Helping you brainstorm interests you have, to focus in on what type of degree to pursue. CRC staff or volunteers can talk through what sounds exciting to you, and what you might enjoy thinking and learning about.
  4. Discussing concrete steps that need to be taken, such as building a schedule, finding an advisor, and getting comfortable using the campus’s computer interface.
  5. Providing a referral to Student Disability Services or to the Counseling Center if either are needed.

Two of the main ways a Collegiate Recovery Community can support students is by providing a community and offering scholarships.

Connect with others in recovery


After students are admitted and are ready to attend classes, they can apply for membership in the CRC. Students must meet certain membership requirements. They must be enrolled in at least three credit hours as an undergraduate, master’s level or doctoral student; have a minimum of three months of recovery; participate in CRC community service projects and other events; remain abstinent from the use of alcohol and drugs; and comply with all other university-related obligations.

Students in the CRC benefit from a faculty advisor who meets with students every other week to share challenges, successes and support each other. They get together for student-led social outings and plan a community service project each semester.

Participation in the CRC is not meant to a burden on students’ schedules. Rather, it provides encouragement and support, and enables students to connect with others in recovery.

Get help paying for college


“We know that one of the most tangible ways we can assist students is to help them pay for college,” Nicholas said. “We want people in early recovery to know that higher education can be an option for them.”

The CRC at the University of Mississippi offers scholarships based on the availability of funding and the number of students who apply. The CRC’s goal is to award $250 to $1,000 to each student, and students must reapply every semester.

The CRC is working to build an endowment that will fund scholarships for students. They hold fundraisers, apply for grants, and solicit donations, giving people the opportunity to show their support for recovery by giving to the fund.

“It shows our students that there are people who believe in them so much that they donated this money,” Nicholas said. “It also allows people who have recovery in their own lives an opportunity to give back. It’s part of this bigger, beautiful system of people helping each other.”

A Collegiate Recovery Community can be your safe haven.


As you re-enter college, you’ll have more freedom than you did when you were in treatment for addiction or living with your family after treatment. You’ll have to manage that freedom well in order to avoid relapse.

One of the most important things a Collegiate Recovery Community can offer you is a safe haven on a campus that has a culture of alcohol and drug use. A CRC is not a 12-step program, and there is no guarantee that being part of a CRC will protect you or keep you from relapsing. You still have to work a recovery program. But through the support of a Collegiate Recovery Community, you can surround yourself with students who are also in recovery and give yourself the best chance of staying clean and getting your life back on track.

College life is all about freedom. To avoid relapse, manage that freedom well.

Susan Nicholas is an academic mentor in the FASTrack program at The University of Mississippi and coordinates the North Mississippi VISTA Project. She volunteers with the Collegiate Recovery Community at UM because of her belief in supporting young people in recovery. Susan’s son became addicted to opiates during his college years, then found treatment and recovery as a young adult. She is grateful to be a part of any young person’s path toward recovery and wellness.

To connect with a Collegiate Recovery program or community at your campus, or to support students in recovery, visit the
Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE).

—September 2, 2015

About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More