12 Tips for Going to College with a Chronic Illness

Heading off to college is never easy, but heading off to college with a chronic illness adds an extra amount of struggle and intimidation to the whole process. It’s a time where you’re expected to stay up late with friends, party all night and make it straight to class the following morning (and of course be able to do it all over again). Pacing yourself is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this 4 year journey but for those of us with medical obstacles, we’re forced to take a slightly different approach.


We both graduated from Sonoma State University up in Northern California and while we had an amazing experience, there were definitely some things we wish we had known going into school that would’ve made our initial transition easier.

We’ve put together a list of 12 tips we wish we had know going in to college…


  1. Disability Center

    Your university will most likely have a Disability Resource Center (if it’s not called that, it will be called something very similar). Set up a meeting with one of the counselors or advisors there prior to school starting and explain your situation. They’ll be able to work with you and set you up with a plan that will fit your specific needs. If you require early registration to insure that you can create a schedule that works with your sleep needs (we highly recommend this) or if you need extra time for a test due to brain fog or any other testing requirements, this is the place that will be able to help and support you. They want you to be able to succeed and are a great resource to utilize!


2. Schedule

If you get early registration (or even if you don’t) try and organize up a schedule that sets you up for the most chance of success. We’re not morning people and it takes us a few hours to begin functioning and feeling like ourselves, so we steered clear of morning classes. We also liked to do one day on, one day off, versus less on each day, because we really needed those off days to do absolutely nothing. Try and make a schedule that looks doable and not intimidating. 

3. Stock Up

Stock your dorm or room with plenty of snacks, drinks, or whatever you might need. There might be days when leaving to go get supplies isn’t an option. You might be leaving a situation where you could call for a sibling or parent to help bring you what you need on your down days -that won’t necessarily be the case in college. So keep your room stocked with items that you will need if you’re unwell. Try keeping some higher calorie bars to make up for missed meals and pre packaged electrolyte drinks. 

4. Doctor’s Note

Get a note from your doctor explaining your medical condition(s). Make copies and bring them to your professors at the beginning of the semester. 

5. Roommate Talk

If you have a roommate, let them know your situation right off the bat. It’s always good to have people aware of what’s going on and, if you need them, they’ll already be in the loop. 


6. Campus Layout

 Get to know your campus before school starts. Know where the health center is, where you can get food and drinks, where your classes are and where you can go to stop and rest between classes. 


7. Handicap Pass

Get a handicap pass for your car if needed (this is a major one we wish we did before school started). More than once this would have made the difference between missing a class and being able to make it. Getting across campus can be HARD and depending on how large your school is, there might not be available parking close to where you need to be. Having a handicap placard can make all the difference in ensuring a spot and helping you cut back on the amount of walking you might face. 


8. Create a Comfy Living Space

Make your new living space as comfy and cozy as possible. College can get so hectic with friends, classes, parties and new actives that you’ll want to have a calm space to come back to. Spend time setting up your new space so it’s your own haven.


9. Don’t Over Do It

This is a BIG one and probably the most important tip that we both wish we had realized going into college. Don’t feel pressured to take extra classes or graduate early or even on time like the rest of your peers. If you need to take one or two years to finish up all your classes that is fine. No one cares if you take 5+ years to graduate, you’re only ever asked if you did or didn’t. If you need to take summer courses so your fall or spring semesters are lighter that’s okay too.  Do whatever works for you and makes your life easier. 

10. Online Classes

If you’re able to take any of your courses online - DO IT. It can make a big difference in not have to be somewhere an extra 1-3 times a week (depending on your class schedule). Taking a class online from the comfort of your own bed is an amazing luxury if you’re dealing with chronic illness. If your university or college doesn’t offer any online options, check the local junior colleges or any other transferable college courses that your school might be able to accept credits from. 

11. Tutor

Missing a class or lecture is basically inevitable when you’re dealing with the crazy unknowns and fluctuations of living with chronic illness. Getting a tutor (even if it’s for maintenance before your grades slip) can never hurt. If you do end up missing a class they’ll be able to help keep you on track and walk you through what you missed. It’s a great safety net to have especially for your harder classes (for us that meant MATH). Check with your disability resource center - they might be able to help find you a tutor!

12. Health Comes First

Yes it’s great to get straight A’s, attend social events and sport games, but health comes first always. That’s something we wish we had paid more attention to while attending college. Putting health aside or slacking on your regime is only going to backfire and make you less able. We relapsed hard after college because we pushed ourselves too much - especially towards the end. Pacing yourself and being able to say “no” are key skills that we are only just getting better at.

We know it’s hard, but try not to compare yourself to others and what they can do. Some people will seem like energizer bunnies that never run out of energy, but they might be fighting their own battles that we know nothing about. Just try to focus on yourself and setting up your collage situation so you can get the most out of it!!

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