What to Do If You Have a Family Emergency in College

A Few Simple Steps Now Can Avoid Unwanted Complications Later

Close up of son holding his mothers hands in the hospital
Portra Images / Getty Images

Even though college students are often mocked for not living in the "real world," many students do, in fact, deal with major life situations and events. Unexpected family illnesses, financial situations, deaths, and other events can happen during your time in college. Unfortunately, your academics might end up paying the price simply because you can't manage everything all at the same time. (And when faced with a major family emergency, it's unrealistic to expect yourself to manage everything anyway.)

If you find yourself faced with a family emergency in college, take a deep breath and spend 20-30 minutes doing the following. While it might seem like you don't have the time now, this small allotment of effort can do wonders for keeping your academics and college situation in check.

Notify Your Professors and Your ​​Academic Adviser

You don't have to go into too much detail, but you do need to let them know what's going on. Be as honest as you can without being dramatic. Let them know 1) what has happened; 2) what it means for things like your class attendance, assignments, etc.; 3) what your next steps are, whether it's an emergency trip home for the weekend or a longer absence; 4) how they can contact you; and 5) when and how you'll be contacting them next. Ideally, everyone will then be aware of your situation and won't penalize you for having to miss class, be late on an assignment, etc.

Additionally, your adviser should reach out in response and offer you some resources that can help with your situation.

Tell the People You Live With What's Going On

Again, you don't need to share more than you need to. But your roommates might wonder what's going on if you leave without telling them for a few days; similarly, your RA might start to be concerned if he or she sees you missing class and/or coming and going at odd hours.

Even if you just leave a note or send an email, it's better to let people know that, for example, you're heading home to visit a sick relative than to cause undue worry or concern over your unexplained absence.

Spend a Minute Thinking About Your Financial Situation

Does this family emergency have financial consequences for you? Do you need to find funds right away -- for a flight home, for example? Does this emergency have a larger impact on your financial aid? It might seem awkward, but being aware of how your changed situation might affect your financial status is important. You can send a quick email to the financial aid office or even pop in for an emergency appointment. The staff there knows that life happens while you're in school, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the resources they have available for students in your situation.

Think About Using the ​Counseling Center

By their nature, emergencies cause turmoil, unrest, and all kinds of mixed (and often unwanted) emotions. At many (if not most!) institutions, visits to your campus counseling center are included in your tuition and fees. Even if you aren't sure what you're feeling or how to feel about the situation, a visit to the counseling center might be a smart idea.

Spend a minute or two calling the center to make an appointment -- they might have emergency slots open -- or at least finding out what resources are available if you decide you want them later.

Tap Into Your Support Systems

Whether it's your best friend on campus or a favorite auntie who lives 3,000 miles away, if you're facing an emergency family situation, check in with those who support you the best. A quick phone call, text message, email, or even video chat can do wonders to update them as well as provide you with some love and support. Don't be afraid to reach out at a time you need them the most to those who love you the most. After all, if your friend or loved one were in your situation, you likely would be more than happy to support him or her however possible. Let yourself be supported by those around you as you deal with your situation.