Chronic Illness in College Students

Attending college with a chronic illness can bring unique challenges, and students may require additional support and resources to ensure success. This article seeks to provide these students with several things to consider as they work toward completing their college education.

1. Carefully evaluate the amount of coursework that’s reasonable for you to take on each semester, depending on your circumstances. Health is valuable and requires prioritization. Each semester, evaluate your course-load and be mindful of the university’s deadlines to add or drop courses. Keep in close contact with academic advisors as well.

2. If academic accommodations are required, register with the Student Disability Services (SDS). At Wayne State University, students are paired with a disability specialist who assists in arranging accommodations each semester. A letter or other documentation from a provider may be required with the initial application to SDS or to change existing accommodations. 

3. Keep regular follow-up visits with your healthcare providers. If time is an issue, scheduling appointments during breaks can be a strategy to consider. Another may be utilizing days that you either do not have class or have a lighter schedule. Find out from specialty providers whether their clinic days are limited to specific days of the week. Be sure to discuss concerns and symptoms with your providers. Being proactive in managing symptoms andhaving a plan for when you experience symptoms or exacerbations will help give you a sense of control in those situations. Additionally, ensure that your prescription medications have enough refills to get you through the semester, or that your providers will refill medications by phone. The Campus Health Center at Wayne State University can be a valuable health resource for vaccinations, lab work, some screening services, and acute care needs. The Campus Health Center offers both walk-ins and scheduled appointments. Furthermore, research which local facilities near your college accept your insurance plan in the event that an urgent health evaluation is needed. 

4. Check if your professors record their class sessions on Echo. This can be useful in the event that you’re unable to attend a class session in person and would like to listen (or even re-listen) to a lecture. Be mindful of class attendance policies in courses and communicate with professors about documentation for health-related absences.

5. Avoid triggers that affect your condition. Brainstorm some strategies to help manage these. Also consider pacing the completion of coursework throughout the semester. Give yourself extra time to complete assignments ahead of deadlines in case health issues arise or exacerbations occur.

6. Maintain a support network with family, friends, colleagues, mentors, and college advisors. Another valuable resource is the counseling and psychological services (CAPS) at Wayne State University, which offers free counseling to students. There can be high demand for these services, so think about getting in early. Everyone can benefit from therapy at various times in their lives. College brings about many changes in responsibilities and levels of stress to manage. Consider regularly visiting a counselor at CAPS to assist in managing stress, develop coping skills, or work on any issue of your choice. If after the first few sessions, your first therapist isn’t a good fit, don’t be discouraged; try someone else to see if they’re a better fit. There’s also power in knowing both your strengths and recognizing areas that need improvement. College is supposed to be challenging. Resources and support surround you in this journey.

7. Utilize resources such as the Academic Success Center at Wayne State University for help performing at your best academically. The Academic Success Center offers a multitude of resources and ideas for implementing effective study habits, improving concentration and time management, tackling procrastination, managing test anxiety, and many other topics.

8. Be mindful of nutritional choices and how they impact your health and wellbeing. Recommendations are very specific to your medical condition, allergies, intolerances, etc. Make it a priority to put sufficient fuel in your body to allow you to perform at your best.

9. Maintain healthy sleep hygiene. College demands can often affect a student’s sleep schedule. Aim to implement strategies to get quality sleep. Some ideas include:

  • Stop using technology 30 minutes prior to going to sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine prior to bedtime.
  • Consider exercise that’s suitable to your ability level and medical condition. Always check with a medical provider for specific recommendations.
  • Keep consistent sleep/wake hours (within approximately one hour), including the weekends.
  • Eating smaller meals closer to bedtime may facilitate better sleep.
  • Avoid all-nighters. Research shows that a good night’s sleep is more beneficial for learning than staying up late cramming the night before an exam.
  • Use a sleep mask to block out light.
  • Avoid doing other activities in bed, such as watching TV or studying.
  • If you’re having persistent issues with sleep, consider talking to a healthcare provider about a sleep study evaluation.




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