4 Tips for Succeeding in College with a Chronic Illness

Jacob Lambie

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Jacob Lambie, International Vice President for Division 2.

College is an exciting time in your life no matter where you come from. It’s a new environment that promises unique experiences, friends, and amazing opportunities. However, for those with a chronic illness, it also comes with a slight sense of unease.

You know that you may not have as much energy as someone else. Maybe you are going to miss classes for medical reasons several times, or you may even have to go into classes with accommodations ready that no one else knows about.

Jacob & chapter membersLiving with a chronic illness sometimes makes it hard to just survive the day, but don’t let that discourage you. With these four tips, you can have the experience you want by entering college prepared and aware of your health:

1. Talk To Your Professors Early

Now, this is usually no fun to talk about when meeting a new person, but it’s a priority for starting college. Emails can always be sent explaining why you have measures in place, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction. I’ve found many times that professors are more accommodating when you come to discuss with them in person your conditions and difficulties rather than sending a faceless email. Starting the conversation early will help you in the long run, when something may happen later on in the semester.

2. Don’t Continuously Push Through

Everyone with a chronic illness in college comes to a time when symptoms start to present and you have to face that critical decision: Do you try to push through and ignore the symptoms, or do you take time to recover and return to normal before continuing? I can attest that pushing through can work. Maybe you have a test, project, or paper due the following day — being able to push through symptoms can be valuable for these situations, but just know you won’t be able to do this forever. It’s a useful skill in small bursts, but is not a good long-term option because you need to get the rest your body deserves.

3. Listen To Your Body

Jacob & officer teamThis is probably the most important lesson you can learn. Medical conditions have a way of inconveniently interrupting your study plans and other activities demanded by a busy college schedule. You may think you can keep going, your friend may think so, your professor may think so, but your body will either tell you yes or no. Push too far with anything and you will end up paying the price by missing classes — or even worse, your grades could suffer. You have to be able to recognize what you’re feeling and pull away from all of your activities if needed in order to stay on track. Remember, a slight delay from a day of resting is much better than missing a week and trying to play catch up the rest of the semester.

4. Consider Your Courses

Depending on your major and whether you’re a part-time or full-time student, class loads will vary. Taking four classes in sciences with labs and mathematics is much different and more taxing than having a mix of art, language, and history. Try to balance out the more time-consuming or challenging classes with a lighter workload so you can survive your schedule. Understand this when making your schedule, so you aren’t forced to drop something in the middle of your semester because you are too overwhelmed.

A college student with a chronic illness may have more to think about than the typical student, but don’t get discouraged. Explore, find friends and activities you enjoy, and live the life you want. Just remember to take care of yourself and listen to your body while maintaining balance. You’re going to have a great year!

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