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Diabetes 101: Tips for College Students

Adjusting to an unpredictable new world

Laura KolodjeskiLaura Kolodjeski

Continuing with our Back to School series, we’re going to highlight a group who will likely go through a bigger transition when the fall hits: college students. From unpredictable schedules, to leaving your parents’ home or even moving out of state, students can find themselves in a whole new world. Some students may face challenges adjusting to college life and, if you are living with diabetes, there may be some added ones – late nights and irregular eating habits can throw you, and potentially your blood sugar levels, off balance.

While researching, I came across some information about preparing for college with diabetes. I noticed the reoccurring theme was “preparation.” To help plan for the big move, I’ve outlined a few helpful tips I found over and over in my research.

Build Your Support System: If you are living in a dorm – find out who your resident advisor (RA) is and ask about your roommate – sometimes you can find out that information in advance. Communication will play a big part of your transition into college and can make it run more smoothly. Letting your RA and/or roommate know that you are living with diabetes can help you and them prepare in case of any emergencies. Also, finding a support system that includes your roommate, RA and close friends can help you manage your diabetes a little easier.

Stock Your Room: Having all necessary items immediately available can be extremely important in preparing for diabetes management. Organizing these items beforehand will prevent stressful searching and allows for quicker response times.

Below is a list of “what to keep in your dorm room” from Joslin’s College-Bound Part 2 article:

  • A list of emergency contacts
  • A mini fridge to store insulin and hypoglycemia treatments, if applicable
    • Note: be sure to label snacks and beverages needed for treatment with signs like “Please do not drink. Needed for Jane’s diabetes.” This way friends and roommates don’t accidently deplete your emergency snacks.
  • A safe box or drawer to keep all of your diabetes supplies, including keytone strips
  • A sharps container to dispose of your needles and lancets
  • An extra blood glucose meter, set of batteries, and glucagon kit

In addition, consider giving some supplies to your RA, just in case you get locked out of your room.

Find Local Resources: Think about finding a back-up local pharmacy. Start looking into the campus’ health care options. Is there a clinic on campus or would you have to leave campus in case of an emergency? Have supplies with you at all times – pack your snacks, extra medications and testing strips.

Manage Stress: Stress as a college student is inevitable, but how you manage that stress can make a world of difference. Between making new friends, going to class, and studying, freshman year opens new opportunities, but also brings with it a new level of stress. Find out what works for you, and try not to over schedule your days as high stress may mean high blood sugars. For all college freshmen, take your time to enjoy everything, but know your body’s limits.

Find Out More Ahead of Time: Find out information like, where’s the cafeteria, how big is the campus or is there transportation such as a bus system – these elements can affect your blood sugar levels, especially if you have to walk a lot or don’t know how many carbs are in the daily special. Fitting diabetes into your college life can seem like a daunting task, but if you are prepared and have a plan, your transition from high school to college should run more smoothly.

Know Your Legal Rights: As a college student living with diabetes, you have certain legal rights. From the time you take your entrance exams through enrollment and living on campus, you are covered by two federal laws: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The American Diabetes Association has a handy guidebook just for college students living with diabetes that you can find here. Be sure to contact your school’s disability center to learn more about the specific options you have.

A few other resources I found include:

As the fall draws closer, are you getting excited for this new chapter of your life? I want to hear your stories – or share your experience if you’ve already gone through college. It would be great if you could leave helpful tips for the upcoming freshmen class.

Here’s to a happy, healthy freshmen year,

Laura K.

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