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I have a chronic medical condition. How will this affect my college life?

College is enough of a struggle with study schedules, part-time work, managing money and social life. Adding a chronic condition to the mix can make things seem impossible at times. Nevertheless, more and more students are attending colleges with similar challenges, so you are not alone.

Without the regular support of your family and circle of familiar friends during your freshman year, you will undoubtedly be out of your comfort zone. Campuses these days do have support groups for students with chronic illness, so there is no reason to suffer in silence, and keeping things to yourself may only make a tough situation even harder.  Students should prepare for the transition to more independent living at college. Being away from those familiar surroundings is going to take a while to get used to.

Some people with a severe chronic condition may qualify for disability income benefits. This can be helpful medically because after 24 months of Social Security disability income, you can qualify for Medicare. How you go about filing for disability is important, though since there have been cases in which a disability has been questioned because the individual was actively attending college.

Every college has a Disability Student Services department; this was made mandatory under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. This department should be your first point of contact. Your campus disabilities counselor will want to meet you as soon as possible. The process can be a lengthy one, so you should start before college semester actually begins. This way, you will be able to manage your moving preparation and meetings with the DSS without having to worry about studies.  

The severity of your condition will need to be ascertained, so the DSS department will want to see your medical records. Their decisions could affect your accommodation arrangements and any special provisions that need to be made. You may be able to get a single room without having to live in a dorm if you register with them before college starts.

If you have a service animal, DSS must approve your application to keep it on campus. The government offers a guide for pet owners who use them as service animals, so you should know your rights before you enroll on campus.

You have probably grown accustomed to explaining your condition to other people, so you should prepare to do this on campus. Take some time to find out who your professors will be and talk to them about your condition so they will understand if you miss classes on occasion. Your lecturers will be able to share notes if you are unable to attend classes; they are likely to be more sympathetic towards your situation if you give them the heads up about it.

It will be your decision to offer the same explanations to your classmates. Some people will not want to burden others with extra worries or invite unwanted attention. You may only choose to confide in your closest friends. This is also advisable, as they will be happy to help if you need anything.

You will need to develop your own system of dealing with days when things don’t go well. Some days you will not want to get out of bed. Fatigue, medication side effects, depression and stress can all have a greater effect on someone with chronic illness. It is possible that you won’t get enough sympathy when it comes to college assignments and making the grade. This is something you will have to put in the extra hours on yourself, since you have more to deal with than the average student.

I think many people with a chronic illness would prefer not to have their chronic illness, simply because it’s high maintenance…

Marya Hornbacher.

Written by Miriam Metzinger, editor for the financial website Seeking Alpha.