How to Have a Successful Semester at College with Diabetes

It’s that time of year again — back-to-college season is here. For freshmen and returning college students alike, college time can be stressful, especially when managing type 1 diabetes. With changes, uncertainty, and everything else going on, it’s typical for teens and young adults with diabetes to experience blood sugar management challenges at college or university. Here are our best ways to have a successful semester when away at college with diabetes:

Know Your Rights

College students are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and are entitled to a 504 plan that grants them accommodations for the management of their diabetes. The purpose of a 504 plan for students with diabetes is to offer them equal access and prevent them from being discriminated against due to their diabetes.

If managing diabetes is making schoolwork difficult, consider getting an individualized 504 plan. A plan might allow for things like extra time during tests or food and drink in classrooms and testing rooms. This can allow a student to self-manage their condition right where they are, to delay an exam if their blood sugar is out of a certain range, or any other accommodations that the student, their family, and their endocrinologist decide are needed for care.

Find the Disability Services Office

To secure these accommodations, students with diabetes generally should seek out the Disability Services Office of their university. This office will register the student as a person with a disability and coordinate the student’s 504 plan. Sometimes, this office will require evidence of a student’s disability. This can be anything from a recent blood test, a doctor’s note, or a report from high school showing that they had 504 accommodations in their previous place of education. Many students with diabetes don’t like to identify their diabetes as a “disability,” which is completely understandable. But all students with diabetes ought to know that they are entitled to certain protections under federal law.

Tell Others About Your Diabetes

Some of us prefer to keep our conditions discreet, but it’s far safer if the people around you know about your diabetes. The people you spend the most time with — roommates, close friends, coaches, and so on — should, at a minimum, know how to recognize hypoglycemia and how to get you the help you need. The more people around you that know where you keep your glucagon rescue medication, and how to use it, the better.

It’s also a good idea to wear a medical alert bracelet in case you go low in a place where nobody knows that you have diabetes.

Finally, please pay special attention to alcohol. Drinking, especially the binge drinking that is so common on college campuses, can make blood sugar go dangerously low. Sometimes this happens when you’re still so drunk that you can’t help yourself. Heavy drinking is very dangerous behavior for young adults with diabetes (and everyone else), but it’s even more so if you’re not near anybody sober that knows how to help.

Make Your Care Local

If you’re going to school near your hometown, you may be able to get back home to see your endocrinologist and refill your prescriptions pretty regularly. But if you’re studying far from home, please be sure to make your care local! This means finding a new endocrinologist and primary care physician, and switching to a local pharmacy where you can easily pick up your prescriptions (walking distance from is ideal!).

Make Friends with Diabetes

Don’t underestimate how important friends with diabetes can be. Not much beats having a friend that knows what you’re going through.

The College Diabetes Network has created support group chapters at colleges and universities across America, where people living with diabetes can meet others, network, and create lasting friendships to help them through the trials and tribulations of college life. It was originally founded in 2009 by a college student in Massachusetts who felt isolated and alone on her college campus when she couldn’t find any other students living with type 1 diabetes. The network counts thousands of members at more than 200 campuses.

The internet is another potential resource for companionship. A 2019 study found that involvement with the diabetes online community is “highly beneficial with relatively few negative consequences.” Another study found that diabetes social media use may help improve diabetes self-management.

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