Chronic Illness Edition: 74 Questions + Additional Resources To Get You Started On Your College Search

chronic illness college

Original photo credit: Aaron Burden

I haven’t actually attended graduate school yet, but I’ve thought about a lot. This has led me to consider many factors that didn’t apply to my undergrad. I wasn’t dealing with chronic illness for most of undergrad, so it really wasn’t an issue. During the part that I was sick (which was the 2nd half of my junior year and all of my senior year), I was in denial. I convinced myself I could still walk 1-2 miles to class, take the stairs up to the third or fourth floor, and carry a heavy book bag halfway across campus. My dorm room was also at the end of the hallway and my dorm had special rules (rules that didn’t seem to apply to me) for using the elevator.

I did all of that, and then wondered why going to one 8 AM class resulted in a 6 hour long nap afterwards. Or why I was crying after a 12 hour long clinical because it my joint pain was so severe and all I had was ibuprofen for pain relief.

Needless to say, things were different back then. I went through a lot of unnecessary suffering because I didn’t want to see what was right in front of my face: that I was dealing with more than one chronic illness. And more importantly, that I needed some special accommodations in order to enjoy college just like everyone else.

If you’re thinking about going to college at any point in the future and you’re also dealing with chronic illness, then you’re in the right place. Below, I’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself while you sort through potential undergraduate or graduate schools. Keep in mind that if you’re not currently dealing with chronic illness, this list of questions could still be beneficial to you in the future, should you ever become chronically ill. (Or if a loved one ever becomes sick.)

Please note that this list is not comprehensive, and it does not reflect the need of every person, condition, or disease. It is reflective, however, of the questions that I have asked myself when considering graduate school, and takes into account my own arthritis, fibromyalgia, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and other health issues.  Yours will no doubt be different from mine, so you may find yourself asking questions that I haven’t included in this post.

That’s okay. It’s meant to be a starting point. Hopefully, it will help you begin the long process of figuring out what you need in order to succeed at any level of college.

P.S. — I’ve also included some additional resources for you towards the bottom of this post.

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Healthcare

  • Does the school have a student health insurance plan?  and
    • What exactly does the plan cover? (Hospital, primary care, urgent care, dental care, eye care, prescriptions…?)
    • How much are the deductibles and copays?
    • Will you need extra health insurance coverage?
    • Is getting your own health insurance plan (through Healthcare.gov) a better option?
    • Will you need to save money for possible healthcare expenses?
    • Is it possible to stay on your parents’ health insurance plan?
  • Are there satisfactory healthcare facilities nearby? (Hospitals, doctors, urgent care centers, dentist, eye doctor, specialists, pharmacies, etc.)
    • Will they accept your current and/or future insurance?
    • Are they easily accessible?
    • Will you need referrals in order to access their care?
    • If you take specialty medications, is there a pharmacy close by that will fill them for you?
      • If not, are there alternative options available, such as having your medications shipped to you, or getting larger refills (such as a 3 month supply instead of 1 month) when you come home?
    • If the facilities are on-campus, do you qualify for any discounts or free services as a student?
    • Is it important to have access to as many services on-campus as possible? (For example, if your college/university has it’s own research or teaching hospital on campus, with affiliated services available.)
  • What is the student health clinic like?
    • What services do they provide?
      • Free health screenings?
      • Reduced-cost vaccinations/immunizations?
      • Sick visits?
      • Walk-in appointments?
      • Labs, x-rays, etc?
      • Referrals (should you need one)?
    • Is the provider an MD, PA, NP?
    • Is a healthcare professional available during off-hours for emergencies?
    • What is their protocol for emergencies? Which hospital will you be referred to?
      • Is there an EMS service available on campus?
        • If not, how close is the nearest EMS?

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Dorm Living

  • Which dorms are handicap accessible?
  • Which dorms are equipped to handle special assistive devices?
  • What is the size of the dorm rooms and bathrooms?
  • Are service animals allowed on campus?
    • What does the application process look like?
    • What kind of documents will you need to supply the school with?
  • Which dorms have elevators? and
    • What are the rules/guidelines for using them?
  • Which dorms have private rooms? and
    • Are they available to disabled students?
    • What is the application process like for acquiring a private room?
  • Are handicap accessible rooms available on entry-level?
    • Are they close to an elevator?
  • Which dorms have handicap parking? and
    • How close is handicap parking?
  • Are the dorms close to the cafeteria/dining halls, classroom buildings, student health clinic, laundry facilities, dumpsters?
    • If not, are shuttles available to transport you?
      • What are their hours and rules?
  • What are the rules for having a car on campus?
  • Which dorms have quiet hours? and
    • How much are quiet hours reinforced/encouraged?
  • Do the resident advisors/staff members receive training in disability-related student needs?
  • Can staff members be requested to assist with tasks such as moving boxes, furniture etc. on move-in and move-out days?

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General Accessibility

  • Is the shuttle handicap accessible?
  • How many handicap parking spaces are available on campus?
    • How many are allotted for each campus building?
    • How close are they to the actual entrance?
    • How strict is enforcement?
  • How many campus buildings have handicap accessible doors?
  • How many handicap accessible bathrooms are available on campus?
    • In the class buildings?
    • In the cafeteria/dining halls?
    • In other campus buildings?

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Accommodations

  • What kind of accommodations are provided by the school?
    • Alternate formats for reading textbooks?
    • Extended time for test taking?
    • Are you allowed to record lectures?
    • Are scribes available on days when you can’t make it to class?
  • How do you acquire accommodations?
    • What paperwork do you need to supply the school with?
    • Do you need your doctor to supply letters, explanations, etc.?
    • When is the best time to submit the paperwork?
    • How long does the approval process take?

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General Questions

  • What is the campus like, physically speaking?
    • Does it have hills, mountains, steep curves?
    • Lots of stairs, tall steps, long stretches of land between buildings?
  • What is the climate like?
    • Does the area have long, cold winters with lots of ice, snow, and blizzards?
    • Does the area frequently deal with severe storms, flooding, tornadoes, or hurricanes?
  • Are speciality diets available?
    • Gluten free, nut free, soy free, dairy free, lactose free, etc?
    • How do you go about requesting a specialty diet?
    • Are there available food items (such as in the on-campus convenience store) that fit your speciality diet?
      • If not, are there grocery stores nearby that do?

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Additional Resources

Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities @ CollegeBoard

College Resources for Students with Disabilities @ BestColleges.com

Disability.gov (scroll over to the “Education” tab)

Getting Accommodations @ Going to College

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education @ U.S. Department of Education

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What questions do you have for your future college or university? Feel free to discuss it with me in the comments!

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