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Tips for Surviving Your First Year of College with a Chronic Illness

Having a chronic illness in high school can be difficult, but surviving college with one can be harder.

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Having a chronic illness in high school can be difficult, but surviving college with one can be harder.

High school and college are very different in their difficulty level and the amount of stress they cause. Students entering college for the first time and are unsure what to expect can have a hard time adjusting to college life.

For students with chronic illnesses, adjusting can be more difficult. Here are tips for surviving your first year of college when you have a chronic illness.

Disability Accommodations

This is something every college should be offering their students. Any student with a disability or chronic illness can apply for disability accommodations. They should speak with the person on campus who handles the accommodations before or when they arrive on campus.

Some colleges may prefer if students contact disability accommodations about a month or two before the scheduled move in day. This makes it easier on the student and the school to get the correct paperwork filled out to apply for the accommodations, along with giving the school enough time to review the information.

If the student is accepted for accommodations, some of these accommodations might include:

  • Taking a test at a different time or in a different room than the rest of the class
  • First floor housing or living in a dorm with an elevator
  • Audio file of textbooks
  • Permission to record class sessions
  • Getting class notes from the professor
  • Being able to miss more than the allowed amount of classes due to severe symptoms of the disability

Tell Your Roommate

Meeting your roommate for the first time can be nerve racking, especially when you’re a student with a chronic illness and aren’t used to living with someone who doesn’t know anything about you. When sitting down with your roommate to get to know them, answer all the questions they have honestly, and be sure to tell them about your chronic illness.

Letting your roommate know about your illness may become an important part of your life living in a dorm. On campus, you’re going to need someone who you communicate with every day to know what exactly is going on with you; telling your roommate is part of that. It also helps your roommate better understand you, and if you and your roommate become good friends down the road, knowing can help them better understand how to help you when your symptoms are bad.

Have a Medical ID

If you don’t already have one, getting one might be necessary. You never know when a serious emergency may happen due to symptoms of your chronic illness flaring. Being prepared for any situation where you may be incapable of communicating what’s wrong is important.

Most Medical IDs come with cards you can keep in your wallet. These cards can hold information such as the name of your chronic illness, allergies, medication you are currently taking and emergency contacts. Knowing that you are prepared for an emergency situation will not only ease your mind, but it will ease the minds of your parents and those around you.

Don’t Hide It

An important step of living with a chronic illness is to not hide it. You will encounter a lot of students who are willing to learn more about the illness and are willing to support you.

You could end up finding out that another student has a chronic illness too, and through being open about your illness you could end up making friends with people who want to get to know you and can relate to you.

Be Healthy

Eating healthy and exercising in college is usually at the top of every college student’s to-do list. For students with chronic illnesses, exercising may be difficult for some and easy for others. Some students with chronic illness have a healthy eating plan already set up from their doctor to ensure that they are staying on track with their diet. For other students, setting up a plan can be difficult. If food doesn’t affect your chronic illness, you might be able to stick with what you’ve been doing. If food does affect your illness, you may have to speak with your doctor again about your diet and adjusting it to make it college friendly.

Exercising can be difficult. If cardio causes your symptoms to flare up, sticking to a lighter exercise plan such as yoga will work well, along with making sure you are getting about 10,000 steps per day. Most smart phones come with health apps that allow you to keep track of your steps throughout the day. Also investing in a Fitbit could be beneficial as well.

Symptom Journal

Buy a notebook or journal where you can record which symptoms you are having every day. This journal is going to be your space to keep track of which days of the week (or month) your symptoms are the worst and which days they are nonexistent. In this journal, you should write down the date, how you feel right when you get up in the morning, the temperature and weather of the day, the time you are having a symptom, what you were doing when it occurred and how the symptoms progressed throughout the day.

This journal will help you keep track of how stress from college could be affecting your illness. It can also be used to bring up any concerns to your doctor if you notice a symptom repeatedly happening and getting worse as the days progress.

Keep a Planner

Staying organized is one of the key things you can do when you have a chronic illness. Writing all the due dates and assignments from the syllabus and class in a planner will keep you on track of what you need to do for each class if you may miss one. It saves time from having to flipping through folders to find the class syllabus and find what you missed.

Having everything written neatly in a planner allows you to see your full course load for the day or week and help you get things accomplished faster. This will also help you stay ahead in class and start studying early for any upcoming exams.

Take Notes

Taking a lot of notes in class can be hard if you aren’t sure what to take notes on. Most professors expect their students to actively listen in class and jot down everything that is said. Other professors will let their students know what to write.

If you are concerned you will forget anything that is said in class, take notes on everything. When you are sitting down and reading the textbook chapter for class, write a summary afterward. Taking notes will help you to organize what you learned and help you retain the information. It will also make it easier for you to understand what the chapter in the book was discussing, especially if the professor went over it in class. Taking extensive notes will also help you study for any upcoming test.

Writer Profile

Angela Herbst

Lakeland University
Psychology & Writing

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