Are you going off to college soon and nervous about starting at a new school, being away from home, balancing classes, new friends, and managing T1D? We know it can sound like a lot, but college will be an amazing time in your life where you will grow, meet new people, and find what your passion is! We want to get the T1D college scares out of your system, so we asked Alex McGowan, a rising sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill, about her freshmen year experience with T1D and what she would tell a rising freshman. Keep reading for words of wisdom from our volunteer Alex!
*Please note: this article is from a personal experience with type 1 diabetes. This is not medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your management of type 1 diabetes.*
- Talk to your parents to reach an agreement before going off to college about how to communicate things like BG, supplies, and even just talking. This could look like texting your BG to your parent or guardian at the end of the day and evaluating at the end of the week to see new patterns, getting a CGM, or calling your parent when you are low so they feel like they are still helpful and in the loop. If you are not ordering your own supplies without your parents or guardians help, make sure you text or call them when you are low on T1D supplies. Make sure you do not wait until you are completely out, but when you are a month or so away. I felt that it helped keep my parents happy and in the loop while keeping me healthy with the supplies I need.
- CGMs. I got a continuous glucose monitor before going off to college. College is a big change and sometimes you may feel like you don’t have a lot of time to focus on your diabetes. A CGM does all the work for you, you just need to plug the numbers into an insulin pump or calculate for a shot. Certain CGM brands have a sharing option so your parents can “track” your BG and watch from minutes or hours away for those low or high notifications. If “oversharing” is a worry for you, again make sure you communicate to your parent or guardian what you are expecting. Maybe talk about not texting about what your blood sugar is at the moment unless you are too high or too low for a certain amount of time?
- Be up front with your roommate. You will be with them every night, and they are a useful tool when you need help. Make sure you take the time to explain to them what T1D is, and what they should do in any emergency. Do not be embarrassed about having T1D. Chances are your roommate might have some sort of medical condition they will tell you about too.
- Make sure you have low snacks EVERYWHERE. In your book bag, next to your bed, under your bed, and anywhere else you go. Never get close to running out of your snacks, because you will need them a lot more than you think. Make sure you also have some healthier snacks when you feel like the dining hall is a carb dungeon and you need something to help (not hurt) your BG! You can never have too many snacks.
- I decided to register for disability accommodations. I know, I hate the word too. You and I and even colleges know that T1D is not a disability, but for some reason that is what it is categorized under. It is not a label, it is just where you will find where to fill out the paperwork online to get accommodations. You do not have 504 paperwork in college. If you want any sort of help from professors or university during tests, lectures, or homework, register for disability accommodations. You will need your doctor to fill out some paperwork and your own words to explain T1D and why you need to be accommodated. You can get help on things like delaying an exam or final if your BG is not in range, registering for classes early to help pick a schedule that is more regulated (e.g. classes that start around the same time every day and a lunch break around the same time), eating and drinking in class, use of “technology” like your pump or CGM, abilities to make up exams, meal plans, rooming situations and locations on campus, and more! The registration is not required, but it does ensure that your professors are accommodating and any emergency is taken care of.
- Set up a plan for getting your T1D supplies to school. Before you head off to school, sit down with your parent or guardian to learn where they order your supplies from and how you receive them. Some medicine and supplies come through the mail, while others you pick up at a pharmacy. Talk to them about your insurance. It is important to have a copy of your insurance card for when you order, pick up, and visit the doctor. Also take moment to ask how long it takes for different supplies to ship, refill, or come in. That will help in cases if you run out of supplies and when you are close to running out. If you have already turned 18, you might have seen the HIPPA laws. I decided to sign to let my parents have access to my medical life. Your parent or guardian can help you order supplies and will be informed when you are sick or go to the doctor if you allow doctors to share information with them.
- Get ready for a new doctor! Make an appointment to meet the endocrinologist or CDE on campus. Get to know them so you are comfortable to go see them during the school year. When you get sick, make sure to see them instead of a normal doctor on campus so you can keep your numbers in check as well. They can be good help especially in the beginning when your routine and basal rates are changing.
- Pharmacy Backup. Make sure you find the closest pharmacy to your dorm. If your university is close to home, your parents could just drop supplies off. If you are not close to home, then you will most likely pick up your insulin and supplies at the pharmacy. It is also good for your parents to have the address regardless in case of some emergency and they need medicine or supplies to get to you ASAP.
- Talk to your doctor about what happens to your BG when you consume alcohol. Always eat before drinking and carry snacks with you to treat lows. Keep in mind the carbohydrates in your drinks, especially the mixers. The easiest way to monitor your BG is to use a CGM so you can see any changes ASAP. When you go to bed, make sure you have water and low snacks because even hours after drinking your blood sugar can crash. Make sure if you go out and drink, the people you are with are aware that you have type 1 diabetes. This is because having low blood sugar and being intoxicated can look similar to people who do not know the difference. Make a note that your glucagon shot will not work while drinking, because your liver is too occupied getting rid of the alcohol rather than sending sugar to your body. This is why you should carry some candy or snacks around with you in case you run low. I chose to wear a diabetic alert bracelet. Hopefully you will never need it, but if any emergency happened and you are unresponsive while drinking, medical help can identify you are diabetic and ensure your numbers are alright.
- PRACTICE! If you are not very independent of your parents with T1D at home, practicing a few weeks or months before you leave for college will help. Not only will you be more used to the bigger responsibility, but your parents will also have greater confidence in you being off on your own (and they will pester you less). The more you practice taking care of yourself with minimal dependence, the more routine T1D will be and easier it is to manage.
Hopefully these tips will give you an idea of what to prepare for and expect when leaving for college. Thank you to Alex McGowan for the helpful advice and we wish you all the best for your upcoming year in college!
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