Helpful Tips for Incoming College Freshmen

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Having completed my first semester of college, I think it’s about time that I share some really helpful tips for any high school seniors getting ready for their freshman year of college. I definitely was lucky to have some helpful hints before getting here, but there were also things that I had to learn on my own that might have been easier had I been better prepared.

First and foremost!: Go up to each and every one of your professors at the very beginning of the semester (preferably your first class with them), and let them know you have diabetes. I am not kidding when I say that every professor I told sincerely thanked me for letting them know. This has been extremely beneficial for me in two major ways. First, it makes it a lot less awkward when my pump or meter beeps in the middle of class. Professors really do not appreciate it when students’ phones go off in the middle of a lecture, so by letting them know in advance, it immediately removes the awkward mid-class explanation of, “Oh, sorry…it’s just my insulin pump.”

The other way this has been very helpful is when it comes to my work. Thankfully I have not missed many classes due to diabetes, but there was one day last semester when I woke up to a site that had fallen out, and a blood sugar of 350. I was not feeling well at all, and the professor for my first class that day had a “no absence” policy unless you had a doctor’s note or an official “excused” from the dean. I was able to shoot him a quick e-mail explaining that I missed class due to a high blood sugar, and he immediately excused my absence without the hassle of jumping through a million hoops to get there.

The college I go to is quite small (my biggest class has about 40 students) so it’s inevitable that I form personal relationships with most if not all of my professors. However, for those of you going to bigger colleges and universities, try to think of this as an opportunity to stand out to your professor. In big lecture halls, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of students. If you take the initiative to go up to your professor and share with them that you have diabetes, there’s a good chance that they’ll remember you and really respect that you had the guts to share something so personal right off the bat.

The second tip is let your roommates know as soon as possible. Once I found out who my roommates were, we did the obvious: Added one another on Facebook and chatted up a storm. I decided to let them know once we got on campus rather than via Facebook chat because there didn’t seem to be a right way to phrase it. I didn’t want to freak them out, by just saying “Oh hey, by the way I have Type 1 diabetes!” but I also didn’t want to go into a long, typed-out explanation because that is even more daunting.

Instead, I decided to tell them the first day we met, and then asked if we could have a roommate meeting on a night of our first week on campus to go over what certain things were so they would recognize them. I showed them my cartridges, infusion sets, vials of insulin, strips, my meter, syringes, and most importantly, glucagon. I saved the glucagon for last just to emphasize it’s importance and make them aware that of all the things I showed them, this was the one they would have to use in an emergency. (Thankfully I’ve never needed glucagon, so I also let them know that!)

I was quite surprised by how well it went. They took it seriously but also were not freaked out. It really comes down to how you present yourself and your diabetes. Remember to stay calm, speak very clearly, and don’t move too fast through all your supplies. You might be a pro, but this is likely the first time they are seeing any of these things.

Also be sure to keep asking if they have any questions. A lot of times people aren’t sure of how sensitive a topic it is and are afraid of asking something “dumb” or “offensive.” Let them know that it’s totally fine and that you are open to answering any questions. (I also highly recommend explaining to them exactly what diabetes is. Maybe even draw a small diagram just to help them understand it, but also don’t turn it into a complicated bio lecture!) Additionally, along with letting your roommates know, it’s a good idea to let your Resident Advisor/Hall Advisor (RA and HA) know, along with anyone else you become friends with in your hall. It never hurts to tell more people.

Now on a different track, aside from just letting important people know about your diabetes, there’s some tips I have for how to make things easier on yourself. Some of these may seem a bit obvious, but sometimes we forget or just don’t implement these things because it’s just another thing on the list to do.

Ladies, I don’t know about you, but I absolutely HATE having to carry around a purse or extra bag aside from my backpack for my meter and extra supplies. Combine all of your supplies and extra snacks in a resealable bag and throw it in your backpack. That way you end up with one less bag to carry. Moreover, by combining all of my things into my backpack, it forces me to keep tabs on what supplies I’m low on and what I have because of how frequently I’m checking my bag.

Next tip, keep extra snacks next to your bed at ALL TIMES. This one is really, really important, especially if you’re living in a single like me. (Long story, but don’t be confused: I did have roommates, but now I’m in a single.) My dorm is really dark at night, and I don’t know my way around as well as I do when I’m at home during the night, so trying to fumble around and get to my fridge with my other food is not an option.

Along with snacks, keep your meter at your bedside as well. I can’t stress how important this is. I hope that this seems boring and obvious, but if it’s not, work on making it a habit before getting to school. It’s easier to continue old routines that you have at home than it is to make new ones once you get to college because you’re planning on “taking control” and “reinventing” yourself. We all have huge goals and expectations about our lifestyle when we get to school, but I promise you, it’s so much easier to start out before you get to school with the habits you want to implement.

This next tip thus far has been the most beneficial for me, and one of the easiest to follow through on. Ahead of time, get a three-ring binder, and make a cover for it that says “Blood Sugar Log Sheets” or something along those lines, and then preprint at least a months worth of log sheets. We have to be real here. Your mom and dad are not on campus with you. Your roommates aren’t going to be checking up on how your sugars are. Neither are your professors or your deans. You absolutely MUST take on the responsibility for at least keeping track of your numbers.

By printing out so many log sheets in advance, you make it so easy on yourself to write them down every day or at least once a week. I actually enjoy writing my numbers down for the first time in my entire life because I feel a real sense of responsibility. Additionally by doing so, you’ll be motivated to work even harder to get better numbers. There is something about seeing the numbers written down that makes them more real and concrete. I don’t know how to explain it, but there’s something so different about writing down that I was 300 and just seeing it on my meter. When I write it down, it makes me really hate that high blood sugar, and motivates me to do my best to not have to write down a high blood sugar like that again.

My last tip is, relax. Take it easy. Don’t get too worried about how you’re going to do it on your own or what’s going to happen without your parents around. I guarantee that you can do this. If your parents are sending you off to college, then clearly there is a certain amount of trust and faith that they have in you.

Just believe in yourself and remember that it’s OK to make mistakes. It’s hard work and definitely gets frustrating, but just keep it in perspective. Know in advance that you’ll need help and that it’s OK. You’re not supposed to be a pro the first time you go off to college with diabetes whether you’ve had it for 5 years or 15. In one semester, I learned more about my body and diabetes than I have in the last 4 years. Being on my own and being responsible for monitoring and regulating forced me to get to know my diabetes really well. It is of course a work in progress, but the key word here is progress. You can do this.

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