5 Things to Know Before You Go to College With a Chronic Illness


College is right around the corner, which leaves feelings of excitement, anxiety, fear, and stress. I recently graduated college and as the school year approaches, I find myself missing it. I love school. I love learning and opening my mind to new and wonderful ideas. As I was thinking about this coming year, I remembered the extra stress that college puts on students with chronic illness and disabilities. From someone becoming sick during college, I wanted to provide some tips or advice for those getting ready to travel to your learning destinations:

1. Try to move in early if possible. My sisters head back to college soon and will be moving in earlier than normal since one of them deals with chronic illness as well. She says it is to provide her with enough time to settle in before jumping into orientation, advising, etc. Colleges usually only have students move into their rooms a day or two before scheduled events, but depending on the case, students could move in earlier. If this is a possibility then I highly recommend it because I did this for two years as I was a community advisor and even though I had a busy schedule with training, the extra time allowed me to slowly unpack and get everything together for when classes start. This helped reduce the stress associated with moving in and starting school and helped me be in the right mindset on the first day of classes.

2. Be open with your professors and the school. I found that being open with my professors about what is going on helped me in the long run and helped me to graduate. They did everything they could to help me in my program when everyone else was telling me to take a medical leave. I did have to make adjustments, but being open helped me retrieve extensions, excused absences when my body wouldn’t cooperate and for endless doctor appointments, and accommodations on a few of my projects. My school had a Director of Retention who helped communicate with my professors about what is going on in case something happened and I couldn’t contact them. The director also contacted my professors to let them know that I talked to them, but fortunately, I didn’t have to talk to them much. It meant I was able to communicate with my professors well enough to not have to have that middle person, but it is always good to have backups in case something happens. I’m a planner. I love backup plans.

3. Make time for yourself and any appointments you have. Most classes have an alternative time and you can create your own schedule. There will be semesters where you won’t have much control over your schedule, but if you can then I highly advise making time. I ended up pushing a semester back so I could spread my classes out more. Through a twist of fate, I ended up graduating on time, but having that extra time allowed me to excel in my classes as well as deal with health issues that popped up during that semester without the extra stress of doing a full course load.

4. Go to counseling or join a chronic illness group. If your college offers free counseling then I highly recommend going. It helped me cope with everything going on health, school, and relationship wise. It is a wonderful tool that I highly recommend and personally miss. I was fortunate enough that the counselors at my college noticed that there were a few of us with the same condition and who had similar worries so they grouped us together (with our permission) and it was a helpful resource for me. It was nice to know other students going through the same thing and be able to understand and be there for each other. I have a few chronic illnesses and my “main” diagnosis is fibromyalgia. Even though it is becoming fairly common, I don’t know that many people with it and it doesn’t run in my family so becoming diagnosed was a brand new idea for everyone. This group helped provide extra support and I highly recommend support groups if possible at your college or area.

5. Know that you got this. College is hard, but not impossible. Find friends that are willing to understand what you are going through and that are willing to stick with you through it. Live your life to the best of your ability and it is OK to not succumb to peer pressure. Be yourself and not what others want you to be. Take breaks and don’t push yourself over the limit. There are people to support and if you don’t think so then know that I believe in you and am rooting for you!

These tips come from what I went through once I became sick in college and I hope it helps you if you are looking for advice. The best of wishes as everyone begins preparing to head to college and know that you will own this year whether your health agrees or not. This goes to those starting college for the first time, seniors, and everyone in between including post-undergraduate. Have a great last bit of summer and a wonderful, educational year!

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