If you’re a college student—or soon to be one—making sure you’re fully vaccinated is critically important, especially if you’ll be living in a dorm or other shared space. That’s because large groups of people in close proximity provide the ideal conditions for spreading diseases, including those that are vaccine-preventable.

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“Vaccines can keep students from contracting serious illnesses and keep them from missing classes,” says Sarah Van Orman, M.D., the head of university health services at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Keep in mind that your school’s vaccination requirements may not be enough to protect you. Many universities—especially public institutions—follow their state’s requirements, which may not include the full list of vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Barring any medical reasons not to get vaccinated, these are the four key vaccines for college:

Bacterial Meningitis

The meningococcal conjugate vaccine covers some of the most common forms of bacterial meningitis, a devastating disease that almost always requires hospitalization and can cause permanent disability or death within hours of first feeling sick. College students living in dorms are an at-risk group.

“Starting in mid-adolescence through college, this is an age group in which this disease is most common,” says William Schaffner, M.D., professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Pediatricians usually give this vaccine at age 11 or 12 and a booster at 16. If you missed either one of these, catch up before dorm move-in day.

When it comes to vaccines for college, be aware that there’s a second meningitis vaccine—the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine—that prevents another strain of the disease, known as the B strain. Since January 2015, outbreaks of the B strain have hit the campuses of Santa Clara University, the University of Oregon, and Providence College. One student died. 

“Even though it’s not currently included on the CDC’s vaccine schedule, college students should get the serogroup B meningococcal vaccine, says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser.

Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertussis

Youngsters routinely get vaccinated against these diseases as infants and young children. And the CDC recommends that kids ages 11 and 12 receive a booster, called Tdap.

But as you consider vaccines for college, know that rising college freshmen who didn’t receive the Tdap booster should get a single dose of this vaccine for college.


The sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus is so common that almost all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives, though most don’t even know they are infected.

HPV infections can lead to cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat. But the HPV vaccine protects against it. “It’s our first explicitly anticancer vaccine,” Schaffner says.

Still, only about half of males and 6 out of 10 females have completed the series by age 17, according to the CDC’s latest data. Two doses of the HPV vaccine are recommended at age 11 or 12.

If you didn’t have the vaccines earlier, doing so for college is a must. Note that if you started the series after age 15, you’ll need to get three doses rather than two.

But don’t worry if you haven’t kept to the CDC’s schedule for the HPV vaccine, says Isabel Valdez, P.A., an instructor of physician assistant candidates at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. If it has been a while since your last dose, she says, “You can pick up where you left off.”


Influenza, or the flu, can make even a normally healthy young person very sick with high fever, muscle aches, cough, and headaches.

And catching the flu may affect you academically: Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that many students stricken by the flu missed class or did poorly on a test.

“The seasonal flu vaccine can protect you from getting the flu—and even if you do get sick, it may mean you get a milder case,” Lipman says.

The flu shot usually becomes available in late September or early October (but you might start seeing advertisements for it as early as August). Here’s what our experts say about timing it right: 

If you attend college far from home, you should be able to get the vaccine in your campus health center. Or you may be able to get it at a local pharmacy, which our experts say is just as safe as getting it at a doctor’s office.

Valdez says it’s especially important for students with asthma to get the flu shot. “Students who have asthma have a higher risk of developing upper respiratory infections that can affect their lungs,” she says.