Sniffles and Strep: What to Do When You're Sick at College

No one likes being sick when they're at college. You miss class, you miss someone to take care of you, you miss breathing through your nose. Here's how to survive sick days in college.

We all know when you have a room full of 18–30 small children whose immune systems are developing as slowly as their notion to cover their mouths when they cough, everyone gets sick. That’s why your friends majoring in Elementary Education always carry around disinfectant and wash their hands every five minutes. College is pretty much the same. Yes, most people know how to use tissues now, but students are packed into tight living spaces and lecture halls with desks that get cleaned maybe twice a year. Then there’s the “Mom isn’t here” issue that famously leads to staying up until all hours because Mom isn’t around to say that’s a bad idea.

On top of that, moving shocks your immune system because of all the different microbes floating around. With some students moving as far as across the whole country for school and dealing with airports—a whole new level of petri dish­—getting sick at college is as common as breathing. So how do you deal with it? Grab your Nyquil and Airborne and settle in for a quick college sick day rundown. Note: we’re talking physically ill sick, not day-after-a-big-party “sick.”

Don’t go to class

Missing class is undesirable because you might miss something important. But if you’re sick enough that you can barely get out of bed, let alone walk to class and actively participate, you’re better off missing it. It’s an easy way to infect everyone in your class, who won’t appreciate it. A couple of good qualifiers: if you have a fever or need a nap after walking from your bed to the bathroom, don’t go to class.

Related: Important Academic Do's and Don'ts to Help Sick Students Keep Up

Talk to your professor

When you realize you’re too sick to go to class, email your professor immediately. Let them know you’re feeling under the weather and ask them if they can send you the PowerPoint or other material they’re going to cover in class. If there’s something going around campus, the professor will likely already know and appreciate you keeping it to yourself. Be aware of the class attendance policy (if there is one), and be prepared to show a doctor’s note at the next class. By the way…

Go to the doctor

Once more for the people in the back: go to the doctor. Or the school nurse, or the closest urgent care center. Especially if your symptoms include sore throat, fever, and/or swollen glands—go to the doctor. Those are all common symptoms of the flu, mono, and strep throat, which all run rampant on college campuses. They’re all super contagious and super unpleasant. College health services have seen it all, so your first step should be to call them up and ask for an appointment. Even better is that they often have antibiotics on hand, so they can fill prescriptions in-house instead of having you drag yourself to a pharmacy.

Keep it clean

Yes, you’re sick and your nose is stuffy. But those tissues need to make it into a trash bin, especially if you have a roommate, because they will hate you for getting them sick. You should have disinfecting wipes for general cleaning up, but make sure you use them on things that you both touch like the doorknob and TV remote. When you start feeling better, put your sheets through the wash so those germs aren’t hanging around. And take out the trash so all those used tissues go where they belong.

Related: How to Stay Healthy in College


The reason you’re not going to class is so you can recuperate, and you can’t do that if you don’t sleep. Wrap yourself up in your blankets and spend the day resting. Remember back in high school how you’d watch daytime television between naps when you had to stay home from school sick? Do that now. And don’t forget to hydrate! Drinking water is important in everyday life, but especially when you’re sick.

Parting tips

No one wants to be sick at college—you miss class, you miss the outdoors, you miss breathing without the scent of Visine. So here are some ways to avoid the plague. The #1 thing is to get your flu shot as soon as it’s available. If you don’t have a doctor in the area, many pharmacies have them available and most insurance companies cover the total cost. Your school may also host a free clinic for flu shots. And if you don’t like needles, see where the nasal spray version is available.

Additionally, be sure to:

  • Eat healthy foods—veggies, fruits, proteins—and make sure you get vitamin C (think citrus) and antioxidants (think berries).
  • Get six to eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Take immune supplements before and after you travel through airports or train and bus stations.
  • Clean off gym equipment before and after you use it.
  • Wear flip-flops or shower shoes if you share a bathroom with the whole floor.
  • Sharing is caring, but don’t share drinks and things because of germs.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often!

For more advice on surviving college life, check out our Student Life section.

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About Kara E. Joyce

Kara E. Joyce is an editor and writer who frequently contributes to CollegeXpress. When she isn’t hunched over editing material, you can find her powerlifting in the gym, pirouetting in a dance studio, or planning her next adventure.


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