Is Health Insurance Mandatory for College Students?

Talor Bianchini
Talor Bianchini20 Sep 2022

Before heading off to college, having health insurance is a big item to mark off your checklist. Most colleges in the United States require their students to have health insurance. If the plan you have does not meet your university’s eligibility requirements, you will have to pay for the plan that the school provides. 

For as low as $45 per month, you can receive low-cost urgent care visits (which is perfect for college students), up to 80 percent off on over 1,000 different prescriptions, and same-day lab testing with a Mira membership. Sign up today

Is Health Insurance Mandatory for College Students?

Nearly all colleges in the United States require you to have health insurance. Before you enroll, this is typically a cost that is outlined in your tuition. It is made very clear by the university you are attending if this is something you will be responsible for once you are a student. Mandating health insurance helps colleges protect their students from facing medical debt further down the road. 

The college will offer its own health insurance plan as a default for those who don’t already have insurance. These are similar to marketplace insurance plans but have some exceptions to the American Care Act (ACA) regulations around the health insurance marketplace. To get out of paying for your school’s offered to plan, you will have to get a waiver after submitting proof of your current insurance. However, even if you have insurance through a family plan, it doesn’t always qualify under your university’s requirements. 

College Health Insurance Requirements

Below is a list of specific requirements that a student’s health insurance may have to meet (these may vary based on the college):

  • Coverage has no limitations, waiting periods, or exclusions on pre-existing conditions
  • Coverage has network doctors, specialists, hospitals, and other healthcare providers in the student’s Penn State campus area or where the student resides while attending Penn State.
  • Coverage for emergencies and non-emergency services like diagnostic X-ray and lab, physical therapy, urgent care visits, ambulance services, preventative vaccine, and prescription drug coverage
  • Coverage for inpatient and outpatient hospitalization
  • Coverage for inpatient and outpatient counseling and mental health services
  • Coverage for recreational activities
  • Coverage for maternity care (female students)

Your college should have these requirements easy to find on a health service or student affairs-related website. Make sure to check with your insurance provider to ensure you won’t have to pay for an additional university plan on top of your own. 

Yearly Cost of Mandatory Health Insurance at Selected Colleges 

Name of University 

Annual Cost of Student Health Insurance

Penn State University, University Park, PA


University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL


University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC


University of Miami, Miami, FL


University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA


*Above costs are for undergraduate students 

Getting Student Health Insurance

As seen in the table above, student health insurance can get costly, especially in addition to annual tuition fees. As a student, there are a couple of different options available for your health insurance needs. Evaluate all your available options to save yourself the most money now and in the future. Students have the following options for their health insurance coverage: 

  • Purchasing through school
  • Medicaid
  • Parent’s health insurance
  • Workplace health insurance
  • Marketplace health insurance
  • Catastrophic health insurance plan


If you are not in contact with your parents and need health insurance before heading to college, you may qualify for Medicaid. Each state has its own eligibility requirements when it comes to annual income. You can apply at any time throughout the year, and if eligible, will be provided with free or low-cost health insurance through your state’s government. In addition, if you were in foster care at the age of 18 or older and are enrolled in Medicaid, you will be eligible to receive coverage until you are 26. 

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Parent’s Health Insurance 

Because of the expansion of the ACA in 2010, young adults can stay on their parent's health insurance plan until they are 26 years old. This is helpful for both undergraduate and graduate students. These plans can either come from a parent’s job or through a plan purchased through the health insurance marketplace. Young adults can even remain on their parent's plan even if they are:

  • Eligible to enroll in their employer's plan
  • Married
  • Not living with parents
  • Not financially dependent on parents

Workplace Health Insurance 

Receiving health insurance through the workplace is one alternative for students who aren’t on their parent's plan and don’t want to receive their university’s health insurance plan. Not all companies offer health insurance to their employees, but companies with at least 50 employees must offer it. Typically, only full-time employees are eligible for the company’s health insurance plan, but there may be an hourly requirement for part-time employees to receive the benefits. To see if you are eligible, you can speak to the human resources department at the company you work for. 

Marketplace Health Insurance

Another alternative for students is to purchase a plan through the health insurance marketplace. This can be purchased through the state’s marketplace or the federal marketplace, depending on where coverage is available. To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or a national citizen. Incarcerated individuals are not eligible to apply. You’ll have to choose a metal tier plan, which all have varying costs for premiums, deductibles, copays, and coinsurance. 

Catastrophic Health Insurance 

Catastrophic plans are the final alternative option for students who don’t want to purchase health insurance through their college. These plans are designed to protect people against major unforeseen medical emergencies. There is a lot less basic coverage, like doctor’s visits and preventative care. To qualify, one must prove that they cannot afford the monthly premiums currently offered and need a cheaper plan. 

One way to increase your access to routine doctor’s visits and preventative care while not breaking the bank is to sign up for Mira in addition to your catastrophic plan. For only $45 a month, you'll get cheaper prescription medications, coverage for preventative care, and access to annual doctor’s visits. 

Student Health Insurance Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Health insurance can be confusing, especially if you’ve never had to handle it on your own before. Here are some answers to common questions about student health insurance. 

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Why do colleges require health insurance?

Overall, having health insurance increases the success of students and college retention rates. If students incur an unexpected illness or injury, the cost and stress could dramatically affect their performance in school and, in some cases, cause them to leave the university. Without insurance, students may push off seeing the doctor if they are sick and prolong their ailment, negatively impacting their health. 

Is student health insurance a good option?

Almost all health insurance plans that colleges offer are in line with the ACA. The exceptions mentioned earlier in the article don’t affect the students who use the plan, just the university. Therefore, the plans cover pre-existing conditions, cover essential health benefits, and more. They sometimes offer better coverage than plans you can afford through the marketplace or your workplace. 

When do I have to sign up for student health insurance?

Each college has a different time frame to sign up for their university-offered student health plan. There are typically two enrollment periods: one for the fall semester and one for the spring semester. Your college should have these dates published on their student health or student affairs website. In addition, each university may have different eligibility requirements in terms of credit hours. Make sure to check this out before you apply for the plan. 

Bottom Line 

To offset the future costs and consequences of not having health coverage, most colleges in the United States require their students to have health insurance. This requirement is noted at the time of enrollment. If you do not have adequate healthcare in the eyes of your university, you will be required to enroll in the university’s student health plan. These can sometimes be costly on top of the cost of tuition, and tax subsidies cannot be applied. There are many other options for students in terms of healthcare, which should be looked at before the college’s enrollment period closes. 

If you have to purchase a plan with a low monthly premium, your deductibles and copays are typically high, which drives up the cost of services overall. For only $45 per month, Mira can help you get discounted prescription medications, low-cost urgent care visits, and same-day lab testing. 

Talor Bianchini

Talor graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Biobehavioral Health, and minors in Spanish and Diversity & Inclusion in May of 2022. She has a passion for health equity and diversity in health. In the future, Talor hopes to work in public health policy reform to help eliminate health disparities. She enjoys reading, cooking, and listening to podcasts in her free time.