BackgroundSince the COVID-19 outbreak was first reported, considerable attention has been drawn to mental health problems among college students. ObjectiveWe aimed to estimate the prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms among college students in different geographical areas of China during the early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak. MethodsA nationwide cross-sectional survey was conducted among Chinese college students of 16 provinces or municipalities from February 4 to 12, 2020. A web-based survey was adopted to collect information from these college students, including demographics, perceived risk of infection, attitudes toward the epidemic and its control, and mental health status. Anxiety symptoms were assessed using the Generalized Anxiety Disorder scale, and depressive symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire. Chi-square test was used to compare the percentage of perceived risk of infection and attitude toward COVID-19 among college students in different geographic locations. Binary logistic models were used to identify associations between geographic locations and mental health problems after controlling for covariates. ResultsA total of 11,787 participants were analyzed in this study (response rate: 79.7%). The prevalence of anxiety and depressive symptoms among college students was 17.8% (95% CI 17.1%-18.5%) and 25.9% (95% CI 25.1%-26.7%), respectively. After controlling for covariates, current residence area in Wuhan city was found to have a positive association with anxiety symptoms (odds ratio [OR] 1.37, 95% CI 1.11-1.68) and depressive symptoms (OR 1.32, 95% CI 1.09-1.59). Similarly, college location in Wuhan city was found to have a positive association with anxiety symptoms (OR 1.20, 95% CI 1.07-1.35) and depressive symptoms (OR 1.22, 95% CI 1.10-1.36). History of residence in or travel to Wuhan city in the past month was also positively associated with anxiety symptoms (OR 1.62, 95% CI 1.46-1.80) and depressive symptoms (OR 1.48, 95% CI 1.35-1.63). Furthermore, the perceived risk of COVID-19 was higher among students whose college location and current residence area were in Wuhan city, and it was positively associated with anxiety and depressive symptoms. ConclusionsDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health problems among Chinese college students were widespread and geographically diverse. Our study results provide further insight for policymakers to develop targeted intervention strategies.