For young adults living with diabetes, preparing for college can be a difficult time. Managing diabetes while trying to make sense of a new world, social network and expectations can be especially challenging. You’re not alone! There are many resources in place to help support this transition.
The following are stories shared by College Diabetes Network (CDN) Students, involved in CDN’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC), about their experiences heading off to college, and navigating life on campus, with diabetes.
The College Diabetes Network provides programs for young adults with diabetes to help make their college experience safer and more successful. The American Diabetes Association is working with CDN to help further this goal.
Name and age: Hannah, 20
School: Simmons College (Boston), Class of 2017
My parents and health care team were incredibly helpful with my transition to college. They allowed me to become more and more independent in the years preceding college. I’m now a junior, and my mom still texts me often about how my blood glucose levels are and brings me supplies to my cross-country meets. I know I have the option to go to both of my parents if I have any problems, because we have kept an open line of communication from the start.
My diabetes educator provided me with a lot of take-home information packets about handling sick days, how to approach my school’s health center and so on. She also gave me paperwork so I was able to go get my A1C test done during the first semester. Being honest with your health care team and parents is one of the most important aspects of having an easier transition to college. In no way is it easy to leave the comfort of your home and familiarity of your schedule and food choices. But having a support system, remaining honest about your health and being patient with the overall transition to college will be helpful in the long run.
Simmons College is in the heart of the Longwood Medical Area in Boston, so I always have the option to visit a number of hospitals. I have gone to my school’s disability services and gotten accommodations through them if I happen to have diabetes issues during my classes—like a pump malfunction, or needing to treat low blood glucose.
And while my education is priority, I still try to stay active with the diabetes community as a whole. I participated in (and tracked my blood glucose the whole time during) a 150-mile bike ride from Woburn, Massachusetts, to the University of New England in Maine two summers ago. I also have attended Camp Carefree in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, for the last 11 summers in varying roles from camper to counselor. I have tried to stay active because I always meet so many amazing people with diabetes who inspire me to continue to aim higher in all my goals. It’s also a great opportunity to learn from others, to learn about products for people with diabetes and to learn how to educate others about what it is like to live with diabetes in college today.
We also recently started our CDN chapter at Simmons. The whole process of meeting up with fellow students with diabetes to establish this group has been amazing. As our school is primarily health science-focused, we want to provide more sessions in which we can educate people on what it is like to live every day with diabetes, especially in college. Personally, I want to get more information out to students, faculty and beyond about the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. There is a lack of knowledge on this subject and it can be frustrating to feel stereotyped. Another goal our chapter has is to work with school staff to make nutritional values more readily available with dining hall food. That way, students with diabetes can give more accurate amounts of insulin for meals or snacks—and all people eating there can make better food choices.
Being involved in the student community is a great time for people to get to know me. The first fact people learn about me is that I have type 1 diabetes. The next fact they learn is the difference between the types of diabetes. I have had type 1 since I was 2, so I am very comfortable talking about it and I find it a great way to educate others. Most of my friends and my roommate, upon finding out about my diabetes, were very curious and wanted to know about when I was diagnosed, what I have to do every day to maintain my blood glucose and what my range is. Their questions have been ongoing since I met most of them my first year at school, and it warms my heart to know how curious they are and how much they care about my health. As for my professors, I don’t immediately tell them unless I find it necessary.
Recently, I have had more peers with type 1 diabetes approach me on how to handle the transition to college. This is very new to me because I used to be the one who felt overwhelmed! Now I am a resource to younger students with increasing opportunities to lead discussions on type 1 diabetes with people all around campus.
Before heading out to college, I do wish I had been more familiar with using a continuous glucose monitor. I have had one for a few years but avoided using it due to the intense application process and the inflexibility for the rotation of sites. In hindsight, I realize these cons don’t outweigh the benefits of wearing the CGM. Being able to watch trends on a CGM is highly beneficial during a busy day of classes.
As an incoming college student, you will probably have a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, have fun and make good choices! Whether it’s to your doctor or a support group online or a friend with diabetes, it’s better to ask than to be left wondering. College will bring a lot of new experiences, and diabetes doesn’t need to limit all you want to do. Go out to dinner with your friends, get pizza at 11 p.m. (not too often, though—everything in moderation!), join the dance team or student government.
College will be some of the best and most challenging years of your life. It goes by fast, so have fun, be yourself and get out of your comfort zone every once in a while!
The College Diabetes Network (CDN) is a 501c3 non-profit organization, whose mission is to use the power of peers, access to resources, and grassroots leadership to fill the gaps experienced by young adults with diabetes and make their college experience safer and more successful. CDN’s vision is to empower young adults with diabetes to thrive in all of their personal, healthcare, and scholastic endeavors. CDN has over 80 campuses with 60+ affiliated chapters.
Diabetes Forecast magazine and the College Diabetes Network recently published a “Thrive Guide for Young Adults” with tips for doing college with diabetes. Visit diabetesforecast.org and diabetes.org for more information.