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Ready, Set, Vote: A College Student's Guide to First-Time Voting

If you’re gearing up to head to the polls for the first time, but are unsure where to start, you’ve come to the right place. Learn what to expect below.


A college student in a business suit casting a vote by placing a ballot into a voting box on a table, with a white background.

If you’re in college (or heading that way), you’re likely a member of a generation leaving an indelible mark on the social and political landscape of this country. Research shows that Gen Z voted at a higher rate in the 2022 midterm election than Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers did in their first midterm elections, respectively, highlighting a trend of historic political engagement.

But being committed to civic engagement and political change doesn’t mean that you automatically know what to do to cast your vote and have your voice heard. You may have questions on everything from the logistics of submitting your ballot and verifying your eligibility to what issues personally affect you. This comprehensive guide will give you the inside scoop on voting while in college, solutions to some of the challenges you may encounter, and critical resources that will help you feel confident and informed.

Ready to do your civic duty and join the ranks of the voting masses? Keep reading!

Ready: Get Started Down the Path to the Polls

First thing’s first: Let’s talk about the most important and time-sensitive steps you should take as a student to make sure you’re eligible to vote. Once you confirm your eligibility and become acquainted with voting deadlines, you can rest assured that you’re on the path to getting your vote to count. Take a closer look at these two important steps below.

Check Your Eligibility

Before you do anything else, you’ll need to verify whether you’re eligible to vote. According to the U.S. government’s comprehensive voting information site, you can vote in U.S. federal, state, and local elections if you meet the three following criteria:

  • Are a U.S. citizen
  • Meet your state’s residency requirements
  • Are 18 years old on or before election day

Know Your Deadlines

Once you’ve confirmed your eligibility, you’ll want to check your state’s voter registration deadline to ensure you begin the process well in advance. Keep in mind, in almost every state, you can register to vote before you turn 18 if you will be 18 on or by election day. If you live in North Dakota, you’re in luck: the state does not require voter registration, and if you live in Minnesota you can put the procrastination skills you’ve begun to hone as a college student to use and register on election day.

Set: Prepare to Vote with Confidence

So, you’ve verified your eligibility and know your deadlines — now what? It’s time to ensure you are informed before you step up to the ballot box by researching important issues and choosing which party, if any, you’d like to register with. Here are some of our top tips to voting with confidence.

Review Ballot Measures & Candidate Stances

Spoiler alert: the ballot you’ll encounter on election day is deliberately devoid of information beyond candidates’ names and their party affiliation. This is not the time to be reading the rationale of a ballot measure or a description of the candidates; you’ll need to do that research in advance. Set time aside in the days or weeks before you plan to cast your vote to review both. Sample ballots typically provide detailed descriptions of key issues and candidate stances, but we’ll highlight additional trustworthy sources of information later in this guide as well.


Visit vote.gov to begin the voter registration process. Once there, select your state or U.S. territory and follow the instructions provided to register. You can typically complete this process online, by mail, or in person at your local election office. Many campuses also host ongoing voter registration efforts (the people with clipboards asking whether you’re registered). If you download the National Mail Voter Registration Form, remember to complete the critical step of signing the form before submitting it at your state’s location.

When you register to vote, you’ll have the option to choose a political affiliation. If you do not choose a party, keep in mind that some states will not allow you to vote in a primary election.

Want a quick and easy way to see if you’ve already registered? Visit Can I Vote and select “Voter Registration Status.”

Vote: Get to the Ballot Box

Election day is here and it’s time for you to determine how and when you’ll cast your vote as a busy student juggling academic deadlines, social obligations, and personal commitments. Below you’ll find a couple ideas on how to do so immediately leading up to election day.

Take Advantage of Campus Resources

College campuses can be some of the most convenient places to learn about candidates and access the ballot box. If you’re attending college at one of ALL IN’s Most Engaged Campuses for College Student Voting, for example, you have access to an institution that is making intentional efforts to increase nonpartisan democratic engagement and college student voting by hosting on-campus voting, guest lectures and town halls, and/or provide volunteer opportunities.

Vote Your Way: Make a Plan That Works for You

Whether you’re attending an engaged campus or not, making a plan to participate in upcoming elections should be part of your personal homework. If you’re attending college out of state and have residency, the choice is yours to vote in your hometown or in your college town. If you choose to vote in your hometown by absentee ballot, you’ll have to plan ahead. If you’re voting in person, remember that your busy schedule may require you to commit to voting between classes, or taking time off work. This can be tedious at times, and you should expect to encounter and have an idea of how to manage snags like long lines at the ballot.

You Belong at the Ballot Box: Challenges and Solutions to Voting

If you meet voting eligibility requirements and have taken care of all the necessary logistical requirements, you have a fundamental right to vote. Some groups of students, however, may face additional challenges when voting. Below, we’ll discuss some of these challenges and their potential solutions.

Students From Out of State

If you are attending college in a different state, the choice is yours: vote in your hometown or in your new college town. Once again, this decision will require planning to ensure you’ve filed the appropriate paperwork — and adequately researched local issues.


  1. Vote by absentee ballot if you’d like to vote in your hometown. This will require you to fill out additional paperwork and request your absentee ballot in advance.
  2. If you have a permanent or temporary residence in the state where you attend college, you can change your voter registration to that state so you can vote in person. You can update your voter registration via mail, online, at a government facility, or, in some states, over the phone.

Students From Tribal Communities

The White House recently released the Native American Voting Rights Report, which chronicles the barriers Native voters face and recommends actions for policymakers at every level to help break these barriers down. Native Americans (like everyone else) register to vote in the state they are physically based in — if they can provide an address, which can be difficult if they choose to vote from a reservation.


  1. Absentee vote from your reservation. Native Americans who live on reservations may not have traditional street addresses, which can cause voter registration applications to be rejected. In many states, residents can register to vote by describing their approximate location on registration forms, or even draw a rudimentary map, which is allowed by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
  2. Vote in your college town. If you have temporary or permanent residence on your college campus, you can update your voter registration via mail, online, at a government facility, or, in some states, over the phone.

Students Studying or Serving Abroad

If you’re a student studying in another country, or are an active duty member of the military serving overseas, you still have the right to vote in the U.S. Here are a few ways how:


  1. Students who are studying abroad can go to Overseas Vote, then click on “Voter Registration/Absentee Ballot Request” on the main menu. Note: You MUSTregister as an “overseas voter,” even if you are already registered to vote in the U.S.
  2. Students in the military can vote via absentee ballot. Access the Federal Voting Assistance Program for details, or visit this U.S. Department of Defense resource.

Students with Disabilities

According to the most recent federal data, 19% of undergraduate students reported having a disability in 2016. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 was passed by the United States Congress to make sweeping reforms to the nation’s voting process with the goal of make voting more accessible to the 38.3 million eligible voters with disabilities.


  1. Research the support offered by federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP). The P&A/CAP, which is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States, offers services in every state and territory, as well as the four corners region.
  2. Learn about the various methods to register and vote in your state.According to Social Security Administration’s Voter Disability page, an increasing number of voters use alternative means of voting; the EAC’s Disability and Voting Accessibility in the 2020 Election Survey reveals that voters with disabilities are more likely to vote by mail than in person.

Students with Felony Convictions

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, it has been common practice in the U.S. to make felons ineligible to vote. Over the last few decades, there has been a push to reinstate the right to vote, although specific policies vary on a state-by-state basis. Citizens who lose their right to vote because of a criminal conviction can often regain that right once they are released from prison or complete their sentence.


  1. Access the Restoration of Rights Project, a free online resource that includes summaries and analyses of state and federal law relating to restoration of rights and status following arrest or conviction.
  2. Research this comprehensive guide from the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division outlining the rules that apply after a criminal conviction.

Students without Identification

If you don’t have photo ID and you’re a student voting in one of 35 states with laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls (soon to be 36, as Nebraska just passed a citizen initiative requiring photo ID in 2022), you may still have options.


  1. You may be able to supply non-photo identification such as a bank statement with name and address or other documentation without a photo. Use the information at the National Conference of State Legislatures to determine the requirements in your state.
  2. If you are already a registered voter in one of eight states with all-mail-elections, you will receive an absentee ballot and will not be required to show/supply photo ID to verify your identity.

Students with Language Barriers

Roughly 8.3% of the U.S. speaks English less than “very well,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and these Americans face greater challenges when voting. Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1975 to increase voting accessibility for non-English speakers, specifically targeting Spanish, Asian, Native American, and Alaskan Native languages. In eligible localities, it requires that voters have access to translated ballots and election information.


  1. Thirty states have at least one municipality that is federally mandated to provide election materials in a non-English language. Research the counties near you that are required to provide non-English ballots under the Voting Rights Act.
  2. Bring an interpreter. If you are not registered to vote in a county that is required to provide translated election materials, you may bring a friend or family member to help you vote.

Reality Check: Debunking College Voting Myths

Because most Americans vote, you’ll find that nearly everyone has a series of personal stories and beliefs about the process. Perhaps you’ve heard these from a friend or family member, or maybe you’ve seen certain claims made on social media. As legitimate as everyone’s experience is, what they share afterward may not be accurate. Let’s take a few minutes to dispel some of the more common myths and misconceptions about voting in college.

Myth: I’m too busy to vote.

Reality: You can vote on your time, at almost any time leading up to an election.

College students can often take advantage of absentee voting or early voting, which can better accommodate their busy schedules. If you must vote in person, many schools offer polls on campus, meaning you can cast your ballot before, after, or in between your classes. Additionally, many colleges have a page dedicated to voting resources for students, like this one from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Myth: My vote doesn’t matter.

Reality: College students are a powerful voting bloc.

Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement (more on this study in the “Resources” section below) indicates that a whopping 18 million students are currently enrolled in graduate and undergraduate programs nationally, meaning “Students constitute a large enough voting bloc to shape election outcomes and shape the future and health of a participatory, equitable, and informed democracy.” In short, your vote most certainly does matter.

Myth: Only national elections are worth voting in.

Reality: Every election matters.

The bottom line: Every election has the potential to impact you and your future, and even a single vote can tip the scales in favor of a policy change or the election of a lawmaker who will wield significant power. Virginia Wesleyan University notes that even one vote can make a big difference, estimating that more than a dozen races were decided or ended in a tie because of a single vote in the last 20 years.

Myth: Voting is complicated.

Reality: With the right information, voting can be very straightforward.

You’ll undertake and successfully complete many research projects over the course of your college career, and with the same approach, you can demystify your voting experience. First and foremost, you’ll need to spend time gathering background information and forming your own assessment (non-partisan platforms that explain the issues are your best) before asserting your position. The only difference is that instead of a good grade, you’ll get the fulfillment of knowing you had a say in an important regional, state, or national conversation.

Myth: Voting is the only way to be active politically as a college student.

Reality: Civic engagement is more than voting, and it’s what college is all about.

During your college years, you’ll have many opportunities to become politically involved. Of course, voting is one way, but civic engagement can also mean participating in political clubs, contacting elected representatives, volunteering on campaigns, and attending local government meetings.

Voting Issues That Matter Most to You as a Student in Healthcare

As a college student in the healthcare arena, you’ll find that certain political issues are more personal to you and relevant to your future career, some of which will affect you as a student and others as a working professional. In the following section, we’ll provide an overview of some of those issues.

Education Costs & Access

With skyrocketing tuition impacting students at most colleges and universities, this hot-button topic is becoming prime political fodder. In fact, new research from The Century Foundation reveals that voters affiliated with all political parties want the government to address the soaring cost of college. Your involvement in this cause could pave the way to lower tuition and increased access to college for future healthcare students.

Healthcare Reform & Regulations

Sweeping partisan divisions and court challenges threatened the passage and initial implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and the years following its passage have been fraught with similar obstacles. As an allied healthcare student, you likely believe receiving quality care is a basic human right, making this a potentially meaningful cause to which you can lend your voice.

Public Health Initiatives

The COVID pandemic has placed public health in the spotlight, but there are many more initiatives that require resources from national, regional, and local representatives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created this list of the nation’s most pressing health problems. This is a good place to start researching public health initiatives that may be important to you.

Research Funding

Pandemics, artificial intelligence, global warming, genetic engineering: these are just a few examples of the many high-stakes research areas vying for federal funding. But who decides which projects get funded, and how do they decide? As Harvard researchers explain, “These questions are central to a longstanding debate surrounding the role of science and technology in modern society.” Your commitment to science and experience in healthcare education combine to give you a springboard into the conversation on future research funding, should you realize this is a subject you feel passionate about.

Worker Rights

Universal labor standards, union formation, the use of artificial intelligence, immigration, and discrimination in the workplace are among the hottest topics pertaining to worker rights today. This is a historic time rife with controversial worker rights questions, making this a political cause with abundant opportunities for civic engagement.

Staying Informed on Campus & Online: The Ultimate Resource List

Below, you’ll find 10 resources that will help you better understand, protect, and advocate for your voting rights as a college student. The organizations, nonprofits, and educational institutions we’ve linked to below offer comprehensive resource guides, issue breakdowns, and more — all of which are designed to empower you as a voter.

  • AAMC Fact Sheet for Nonpartisan Voter Registration – The Association of American Medical Colleges has developed this list of tips and tactics in collaboration with Vot-ER, a nonpartisan organization that works to integrate voter education into healthcare settings.
  • ACLU: Know Your Voting Rights – The American Civil Liberties Union provides insights into how you can exercise your voting rights, resist voter intimidation efforts, and access disability-related accommodations and language assistance at the polls.
  • Campus Vote Project – The Campus Vote Project and Fair Elections Center provide state-specific student voting guides. These guides feature deadlines, required voter registration documentation, and answers to FAQs.
  • Civic Nation – Learn more about Civic Nation at their resource-heavy site. This nonprofit is working to build a more inclusive and equitable America, bringing together individuals, grassroots organizers, industry leaders and influencers to tackle the nation’s most pressing social challenges.
  • Language Rights in Voting – If English isn’t your native language, you may have the right to language assistance and translated materials when you vote. This site will give you a foundational understanding of these rights and how to invoke them.
  • Protecting Native Voter Services – Too many Native voters still encounter difficulties registering to vote and casting ballots. But voters can weather discriminatory policies by using this site’s tools to organize, advocate, and vote.
  • Resources for Voters with Disabilities – The United States Election Assistance Commission has compiled this list of resources to help Americans with disabilities vote and advocate for their rights.
  • University of Michigan Issues Exploration – This guide from the University of Michigan offers insight into how students can find trusted informational resources, research social issues, and make informed decisions.
  • Vot-ER – This nonpartisan organization connects healthcare advocacy with civic engagement, suggesting that communities are healthier when more voters participate in democracy. Learn why August is considered “Civic Health Month” and access voting resources at this comprehensive site.
  • Why College Student Voting Matters – Tufts University’s National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement created this compelling document to advocate for the importance of voting on college and university campuses.