Caring for Diabetes at College

For young adults with diabetes, preparing for the move to college over the summer will ensure you're at your best at the start of this new chapter! If you take all these steps before leaving home, you can avoid being dragged down by high blood sugars or worries that you’ll run out of supplies.

Meet with your CHOP diabetes team before leaving for college  

Know when to contact your CHOP team and when to contact your college Student Health Center. Discuss this with your provider.   

Get copies of your current medical records to take to Student Health.

Your diabetes team can provide any medical documentation required by the school.   

Meet with the staff at your Student Health Center  

Know the location and hours of the Student Health Center on campus.

Find out how to contact them if you are too ill to leave your residence.

Contact your college’s disability office

Registering with your college’s office of disabilities is the first step in addressing your anticipated needs. This is different than having a conversation with your professors. While you’re there, here are some reasonable modifications to request:

  • Permission to check blood glucose in classrooms and lecture halls
  • Permission to keep a personal refrigerator for diabetes supplies in dorm room
  • Permission to reschedule an exam if experiencing high or low blood sugar level
  • Being excused for diabetes-related absences and the ability to make up work
  • Permission to have an extra break to eat during a clinic or internship
  • Permission to schedule classes so that a regular meal schedule can be maintained

Unlike elementary and high schools, colleges are not required to make changes or offer accommodations that change their standards or the integrity of their program. Some requests that are not likely to be granted include:

  • Exemption from course requirements
  • Taking significant extra time on an exam
  • Training school personnel to administer diabetes care

Requesting a modification after you need it is usually not successful. If you have not told the college that you have diabetes (registered with your college office of disability) and you perform poorly on an exam because of a high or low blood sugar level, you will likely not be able to retake the exam. Be proactive. Register with the office of disabilities before a problem arises.

For more information, check out the American Diabetes Association fact sheet on Diabetes and Postsecondary Education.

Meet with the food service manager or registered dietitian on campus

Food service staff can assist with providing carb counts for items on campus dining menus.   

Ask food service if they offer any additional services, such as pre-packed meals.   

Use carb counting resources if unsure of carb counts.

Have snacks in your room and with you at all times in case of low blood sugar.

Figure out how you will get your diabetes supplies while you are at school

Decide if you will get the supplies at a pharmacy near your school, or if you want to continue getting them at parents’ home. If you have mail order, ask if they can be shipped to your school address. If you haven’t done so already, begin to order and pick up your own medication. Practicing this at home gives you the experience to deal with something that may go wrong with your prescriptions at college.

Always have extra supplies on hand.  Accidents, such as a lost or dropped insulin vial, can happen.

Remember to take all your supplies including a sharps container and glucose tablets.

Know your health insurance coverage, especially if you are going to college in another town or state  

Keep in mind, some HMOs only provide emergency out-of-area coverage.  

Your insurance company might not cover prescriptions written by Student Health. They may not be considered “in network” for your HMO.   

Customer service representatives, available at the 1-800 number on the back of your card, can give you the details.

Ask your parents for help with understanding your plan’s coverage or talk to a Diabetes Center social worker.

Make a “sick-day kit”

Include a thermometer, bland foods and liquids (sugar-free gelatin, saltines, broth-based soup, juice, sugar and sugar-free fluids, and sugar-free cough drops), Advil® and Tylenol®.

Also include acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Make sure you have extra insulin, as well as urine ketone test strips and a copy of your sick day plan.

Plan how you will tell your roommate and new friends at college

Make sure your roommate and friends know how to assist if you go low.

Make sure your roommates (and your resident advisor if you live in a dorm) know your symptoms of low blood sugar and how to help you. (get juice or treat with cake icing). 

Show them where you put your glucagon emergency kit.  If they are willing, teach them how to give it.

Make sure your roommate knows when to call 911.

Wear a medic alert

Always wear a medic alert in case something happens while you are away from home.

In case of emergency, this can let others know you have diabetes.

Drinking alcohol is illegal until you are 21.

Alcohol affects your body’s ability to keep blood sugars stable. You can have a severe low and may not feel the low if you are sleeping or intoxicated. Low blood sugar can be fatal.  

Drugs are illegal. Drugs can impact your ability to feel and treat low blood sugars.  

Talk to your diabetes team if you have any questions about drugs or alcohol,  regardless of your age.  

Drive safely

Test your blood sugar before you drive. On long drives, test every 2-3 hours.  

If you feel low while driving, pull over immediately, test your blood sugar and treat if needed.

If you treat yourself for a low blood sugar, do not drive until your blood sugar is back in range.

Keep glucose tablets, drinks, and food to treat lows in the car.  

Carry a cell phone and phone charger in your car, so you can always call for help.

Talk to a social worker

Make an appointment with a social worker to further discuss and make a safe plan for caring for your diabetes at school.

Know who to contact if you have ketones

If you have not yet transitioned to an adult endocrinologist, call:

The Diabetes Center at 215-590-3174. Monday through Friday from 8AM to 4:30PM.

After business hours and on weekends/holidays, call 215-590-1000 and ask for the diabetes provider on call.

If you have transitioned to an adult endocrinologist, be sure to ask what support is offered for help with illness and ketones, especially after-hours.

Study hard and enjoy college!

Additional resources