As a college student, you will likely be living on your own with the freedom to make your own decisions. A new schedule, late-night studying and social activities can all impact blood sugar levels. Always carry your blood sugar meter/test kit, treatments for hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), insulin and glucagon with you.
And remember, being nervous about college and diabetes is natural. The information below will help you feel confident in your diabetes management so you can focus on your academics!
Diabetes management in college
Always have a supply of treatments for lows in your dorm room. You do not want to get stuck without anything in the middle of the night when all the cafes are closed. Your first day on campus, check out where your classes are located and also where you can purchase food from a nearby cafe or vending machine. Knowing where you can quickly get food if you have a low during class is important.
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Let your roommate and friends know you have diabetes and how they can help in case of an emergency. Show them how to administer glucagon if needed. Remember that glucagon does not work if you have been drinking.
If you plan on going out for drinks, always have a snack before, and bring snacks with you. Alcohol tends to raise blood sugar levels and then drop them hours later. Be mindful of how you may need to adjust your insulin dose because of this effect. Make sure your CGM (continuous glucose monitor) alarms are on when you go to sleep and set an alarm to wake you up to test your blood sugar after drinking. Have a medical ID with you when you go out. You can set up a medical ID on your iPhone or Apple Watch, use a wallet card, or wear a medical ID bracelet or other form of ID jewelry. Lauren’s Hope has a large selection of medical ID jewelry for men and women.
Consider sending your insulin prescription to a pharmacy in your college town so you can easily pick up your Rx. Send your supplies to your school address so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck without them. Stay on top of reordering your supplies — see if you can get them on automatic reshipment, or set a reminder on your phone to reorder them.
Diabetes is considered a disability, and you are entitled to accommodations through your school’s disability services. You do not have to apply for accommodations, but it can help make the transition smoother. This way, your professors will already be aware of your diabetes, and it makes discussing your needs with them easier.
Let professors know what type 1 diabetes is and that you may have to use medical devices like your CGM, pump or cell phone during class. Remind them that you might have to glance at your phone, and it is not you being disruptive or rude.
Applying for accommodations through your school allows you to take breaks during class and tests for self-care, provides for changes to class and exam attendance policies in case of diabetes-related illness, and gives access to in-room refrigerators for insulin and to dorms with accessibility to cafeterias.
I was diagnosed with type 1 during college and did not find out until later that these accommodations were available to me. Applying for accommodations would have made my college life a little easier. I would have worried less about my blood sugar during tests, leaving class to treat a low, or if my phone might go off with an alarm. There are resources on college campuses to help all students succeed. Find out what is available to you and request the assistance you deserve!
Campus life and the College Diabetes Network
Get involved on campus. If your campus has a College Diabetes Network (CDN) chapter, go check out one of their meetings. The perk of having friends with diabetes is that they completely understand what you are going through. They are there to support you when diabetes gets overwhelming. If your school does not have a CDN chapter you can start one! CDN also has a free “Off to College With Diabetes” guide available on their website. It is filled with tons of helpful tips and tricks. You just have to request a copy and they will send it to you for free!
Cultivating a balance between academic responsibilities, social activities and self-care can be difficult. However, when classes get stressful and diabetes gets overwhelming, having practices of self-care to fall back on are essential. Try to get enough sleep, stay hydrated and move your body. Those three things have a huge positive impact on blood glucose management. Find ways to move your body that you enjoy. That could look like working out at the gym or exploring your college town on foot with friends. It is OK to take a self-care day and say no to social activities if you are feeling burnt out. Find a balance between making smart food choices at the cafeteria and also giving yourself permission to have a treat with friends. Practice flexibility and compassion with yourself. Take a short break when stressed and do something you enjoy.
Always remember your self worth is measured by much more than the number on your blood sugar meter. Enjoy college!
Want to learn more about caring for your diabetes in college? Read “Managing Type 1 Diabetes in College,” “Tips for Going to College With Type 1” and “Type 1 Diabetes Scholarship: Where Do I Find Them.”