The past few months, I’ve been working with my ICN center to create a series of ‘College with IBD’ handbooks. These handbooks are meant to help guide patients who are beginning the transition to college, or to provide additional support those already in school. I wanted to take the difficulties I experienced (and subsequent knowledge I gained) and create a resource that would support others in areas where I wish I’d had more guidance.

The first handbook has information about finding the right school, preparing for college, setting up accommodations, locating scholarships, and facilitating care. The second handbook focuses more on ‘survival tips,’ like studying when you don’t feel well, navigating the dining hall and dorms, college social life, handling flares away from home, and taking care of your mental health.

Since the handbooks aren’t widely available yet, I’d like to share a few tips for students transitioning to college (and for those of you who are already there!).

  1. Don’t overcommit yourself right away, and give yourself time to adjust. College is a time of new experiences, so try to ease into everything and assess what you have the time/energy for.
  2. Be proactive and open when communicating with professors. Being open allows them to get a better understanding of what you’re dealing with and can help them better support you.
  3. Set up academic accommodations ASAP, even if you don’t think you’ll use them. Having accommodations in place before you need them means one less thing to stress about when you’re feeling unwell. Utilize the resources that your school has, and don’t feel guilty asking for help!
  4. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out - there are so many great support groups and patient networks (like the PAC) if you’re feeling alone.

Though overall, I enjoyed my college experience, I had an extremely difficult time balancing my health, life, and academics. I felt like in order to be a ‘good student,’ I needed to push my body to do things that weren’t healthy for me. It took me a while to realize that it wasn’t worth putting my health at risk just to pass a class; that it was OK to put myself first and to take breaks when I was struggling. As a chronically ill student, it can be frustrating to feel like your health is holding you back, or like you’re not able to live up to your full potential because you’re sick. Part of my goal for these handbooks is to remind others (and myself!) that our worth as individuals isn’t defined by how much work we’re able to handle or the grade we get in a class. Doing your best may vary depending on how you’re feeling, and that’s OK, because having a ‘college experience’ is about more than just getting A’s in your classes and having a busy social calendar - it’s about learning to challenge your assumptions, growing as an individual, making connections and finding your place in the world.

Stay tuned as I work with my local center to finalize these handbooks. Once they are final, I hope to be able to share them widely with the ImproveCareNow Community.



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