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Top College Search Tips for Students With Chronic Illness

If you're planning your college search with a chronic illness, here’s what you should look for, helpful resources, and schools that are especially supportive.

There’s no doubt that high school is hard—high expectations and self-set standards push us to be the best we can be in every aspect of our lives. Every opportunity we choose to take is focused on one central goal: our future. Whether we wish to be doctors, movie stars, or anything in between, we exhaust ourselves setting up our student profiles to stand out from other in the college admission process. For students suffering from chronic illness, opportunities are notably harder, and everyday assignments prove to be daunting tasks. College is a whole new level, but many colleges and universities are beginning to improve access to disability services. However, there is still a long way to go. With all that being said, here are some college search tips for students suffering from chronic illness, including what to look for in a college, specific things and resources you should consider, and examples of schools that are especially supportive.

What to look for in a college

The college search is a long process with many factors to take into consideration, including location, tuition, majors, and more. For students with chronic illness, colleges may not hold the proper resources to accommodate their needs. Looking for colleges with specific disability accommodations can keep you as healthy as possible when you’re away from your family.

Online options

Students suffering from chronic illness miss a lot of school. When you’re in high school, measures such as 504 and IEP plans can be taken to ensure that no discriminatory acts take place. However, these plans do not carry over into college. Having the option to attend classes online when you’re not feeling well enough to attend in person can be crucial to making sure you graduate on time with the best possible education and qualifications.

Related: How to Make Online Learning Work Better for You

Flexible classes

Online classes aren't always an option. In situations where you’re unable to attend class, flexible classes and understanding professors are make-or-break factors in your quality of life. Finding classes tailored to your needs can prove to reduce stress and keep your symptoms to a minimum.

Accommodations on campus

Colleges are starting to become more disability friendly. While there’s still a long way to go, disability services are becoming more common and accessible on campus. Identifying simple things such as where handicap parking is located and which floor your classes are on will familiarize you with your surroundings and help you build a weekly routine. Visiting your campus’s disability service office before classes start will help ensure that your professors know about your disability and that no discrimination will occur.

Doctors and health care

Depending on the severity of your illness, medical emergencies may be common. When you’re in a new environment, it’s essential that your medical records can be easily found and accessed in the event of an emergency. Having medical alert jewelry and a doctor or specialist nearby who’s familiar with your case and chart could save your life.

Related: 5 Great Campus Resources Students Should Know About

Things students with chronic illness should consider

Students with chronic illness have learned to handle self-responsibility exceptionally. But college can be stressful, and these students have to work their life around additional obstacles. Here are some things to consider to help decrease your stress.

Insurance

When learning to manage a chronic illness on your own, insurance is one of the most important things you can have. In the event of an emergency hospital stay, insurance makes sure that you’re paying as little as possible. If you’re leaving for college out of state, find out if your existing insurance policy will carry over to your new state. If not, look into insurance policies provided by your school.

Routine

An essential part of managing a chronic illness is establishing a routine. Creating a weekly schedule that lists where you will go and what you will bring can be helpful. Health equipment can easily be neglected when you’re in a new place, so bringing things such as inhalers, canes, and wheelchairs makes for easier and less stressful traveling.

Consistency

Staying consistent not only with your routine but with your self-care contributes greatly to the maintenance of your physical and mental health. Putting time aside in your day to do simple things such as eat, take medication, and sleep will refresh your brain and body, giving you the energy to take on the day in the most efficient way.

Related: How to Take Care of Yourself in College

Resources for students with chronic illness

Whether it’s TikTok, a blog, or student disability services on campus, having a support system for guidance will help ensure you don’t go through college alone. Finding new ways to accommodate and manage your illness through the help of others will make your educational experience the best it can be.

Social media

Social media platforms such as TikTok and Instagram have millions of creators, including many teens and adults who are dealing with chronic illness. They turn to social media to track their symptoms, document flare-ups, and share tips and tricks with other “spoonies” in the community. Creators such as Chronically Katie Scarlett and Ilana Jacqueline are on the rise gaining followers and support.

Disability services office

As mentioned before, disability services are becoming more advanced on college campuses. They’re commonly found in student resource wings near the admission and enrollment offices. They provide things such as handicapped parking, counseling, nearby doctors, classroom accommodations, and sometimes insurance, so be sure to take advantage of this resource.

Support systems

Before leaving for college, check in and make sure your support system is as strong as it can be. From friends to parents and guardians to teachers, ensure that you have people by your side to encourage you. Adding to your support system in college will also help you maintain your health in a new environment.

Related: How to Build and Use a Support Network in High School

Colleges and universities to explore  

Choosing the right college for you is critical to your success as a student. Tailoring your college search to your needs will lessen your stress and promote academic excellence. Taking all the factors mentioned before into consideration, these are some of the best schools that accommodate students with chronic illness that you may want to add to your college search list.

University of Michigan–Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan has been known as a trailblazer for disability accommodation programs, establishing the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office in 1974. Since then, the University has built dozens of labs and programs to support students who suffer from chronic illness and other disabilities by removing access barriers, promoting inclusion, and providing accommodations like notetaking, alternative material formats, exam scheduling, and more.

University of Southern California

USC in Los Angeles established its Disability Service and Programs shortly after the University of Michigan in the 1970s. The University’s Office of Student Accessibility Services (OSAS) focuses on self-advocacy and provides students with a number of resources, including free tutoring, test accommodations, and more. 

Marist College

Located in the big city of New York, Marist College provides disability programs for students suffering from both physical and learning disabilities. Their programs provide centralized support, homing in on individual needs and working to form education plans unique to the student.

Request info from Marist!

Messiah College

If you’re looking for a school with a smaller student body, Messiah College is home to around 3,200 students, about 200 of whom are living with a disability. The College takes pride in the ethics of its programs by putting special attention on student care and offering programs such as notetaking assistance and proctored exams to aid in each student’s education.

Request info from Messiah!

Northeastern University

Northeastern University strives to provide equal experiences for each of their students and has hundreds of student volunteers to make it happen. The Disability Resource Center (DRC) offers free services to all students enrolled in their office, volunteers to take notes for students who can’t, and five sessions of tutoring for those who may not have been able to attend class.

Request info from Northeastern!

College will take you places, but only through hard work and self-preservation. Students suffering from chronic illness can accomplish so much, and with an education built around your unique needs, you will thrive. Working to improve yourself by making your higher education work for you will ensure that all your dreams become reality.

Still looking for the right college that can accommodate your needs? Check out our unique Lists & Rankings, with options like Colleges With a Physically Disabled–Friendly Environment.

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