Going to university or college is a wonderful achievement and an exciting opportunity. If you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), you may be wondering how you will cope with the condition in a new environment, especially if you are moving away from home.
However, with the right knowledge, information, and support, your transition to college life can be smooth and successful.
This guide sets out to address some of your concerns and questions about starting college with Crohn's or colitis, as well as give you tips and advice on how to deal with the challenges ahead to get the very most out of this exciting new chapter in your life.
If you have any questions you would like to ask or need support call our helpline on 01 5312983 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
What general help and support am I entitled to?
Most colleges and universities across the country will do their best to work with you and accommodate any needs you may have.
One way to find out what help and support is available is to get in touch with the university or college student disability services.
IBD is a significant ongoing illness and may mean you have needs other students do not, and that you might benefit from some of the support offered in this way.
All Higher Education institutions should have a student disability services department or team to support students with conditions such as IBD and details of how to contact them will be on the university or college website.
Generally, if you have a chronic medical condition, such as Crohn's or colitis, you can request 'reasonable adjustments such as:
- Extra time for exams or to meet coursework deadlines when fatigue is a problem.
- Arrangements to allow you to eat or take medication during class sessions.
- Understanding from lecturers that you may need toilet breaks during lectures or workshops.
Some universities and colleges offer flexible study options including modular and distance learning courses, enabling students to take learning at their own pace. With such a course structure, it might be possible to take a break from studying if you have a flare-up, or to change to working from home for all or part of your course.
Speak to the admissions team at your university or college for more information on course availability.
Is there extra financial help?
Disability Access Route to Education (DARE)
The Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) is a college and university admissions scheme which offers places on a reduced points basis to school leavers with disabilities under the age of 23 in Ireland. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis qualify as a Significant Ongoing Illness under this scheme. The application for supplementary entry is simply an extra section of your overall CAO application. As well as completing some extra information on the online form, you are required to complete and return two hard copy forms known as the Educational Impact Statement and Evidence of Disability forms.
Further information on the application process and participating college are here: www.ahead.ie/dare
Higher Education Access Route (HEAR)
The Higher Education Access Route (HEAR) is a college and university admissions scheme that offers places on reduced points and extra college support to school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. For full details, go to http:// accesscollege.ie/hear/
Fund for Students with Disabilities
The Fund for Students with Disabilities allocates funding to further and higher education colleges for the provision of services and supports to full-time students with disabilities. The fund aims to ensure that students can participate fully in their academic programmes and are not disadvantaged by reason of a disability or illness. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis qualify as a Significant Ongoing Illness under this scheme. For full details. go to:
Some colleges and universities may offer additional services and support above and beyond what is eligible for funding under the Fund for Students with Disabilities. You can find out more about these on the websites of individual colleges and universities.
Should I tell my college about my IBD?
If you have gained access to college under the DARE scheme, your college may contact you to discuss any special needs you may have and how your disease may impact on your time in college.
Many universities and colleges do encourage students who feel they may need extra support because of a disability or chronic illness to declare or disclose this at an early stage, for example on their application form.
You do not have to tell anyone about your IBD if you do not wish to. However, if you do not tell your university or college about your condition, you may miss out on some of the support that could be available.
You may wish to contact student disability services as soon as your place is confirmed to arrange for any supports to be ready for the start of term. Or you may prefer to wait until you arrive at college or university before talking to anybody about your IBD. Anything you say will be kept in confidence and will not be passed on without your permission.
You may also find it helpful to talk to your head of department and your personal tutor (if you have one) about your IBD and the impact this could have. Many students with IBD recommend doing this as soon as possible. If staff are aware of your condition, they may be able to be more flexible around your studies. University/college staff can get information on BD from various websites including www.crohnscolitis.ie
What about telling other students?
You will be meeting lots of new people at university and it's entirely your decision whether you tell them about your IBD or not. Everyone has their own way of dealing with this. You may prefer to get to know people first before telling them or you may prefer being open from the start. It's really up to you.
You may find telling a few people can feel like a relief and help you feel more supported. If people understand what you are going through, they can also help you more. Who knows, maybe you will want to form and organise the first IBD support group on your campus!
What should I say?
It is common for people to feel embarrassed when talking about bowel disease and you may find it difficult to explain your symptoms. Using our information may help. We have a range of free resources available on our website that you can show to others.
You may find the following points useful to raise:
Not IBS - It may also be useful to make it clear that IBD is different from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as the two conditions are often confused
Medication and nutritional needs - You may need to take medication or perhaps eat a snack during lectures, seminars or classes.
Lateness- You may arrive late because of urgent toilet needs or because tiredness or painful joints have made it difficult to walk quickly.
Feeling unwell - There may be times when you are feeling exhausted and in pain and need to take a brief rest, or even return to your accommodation.
Missing sessions - At times, you may need to miss classes because of medical and hospital appointments, hospital admissions or being ill at home.
Toilet needs during lectures and seminars - You might like to sit close to the exit or at the end of a row in order to leave the room quickly. If locker facilities exist, you could request the use of a locker for spare clothes and washing kit, and/or permission to use staff toilets if these are available.
Field Trips - Given the unpredictability of IBD, it may be difficult for you to commit to going on a trip much in advance of the day itself.
You may also be concerned about toilet facilities on the Journey and at the field trip accommodation.
How do I get suitable accommodation?
While some students prefer to continue living at home, for others, living independently is an important part of the university experience. With some thinking ahead and planning. you should be able to move out with confidence.
Staying in campus accommodation for the first ear can be a good way of getting to know people. Check how many people will be sharing the bathroom with you and if there is a provision for you to have an en suite or private bathroom. Find out if the residence has its own laundry facilities or if not, if there is a launderette nearby.
Sharing a flat or house, or renting a room as a lodger can feel more homely than student accommodation. If you have to share a bathroom, check how close the facilities are to your room, and how many other people would be using them.
How can I support myself?
College should be one of the best times of your life, but you need to look after your health.
There are a number of simple things you can do to help make your life easier at university or college:
- Carry your medication with you and take it as prescribed.
- Try to eat healthily and avoid foods that may trigger a flare-up of symptoms.
- Ensure you get adequate sleep and drink alcohol in moderation.
- You might find it useful to download a medicine reminder app to your mobile phone to remind you to take your medication.
- Get a map of campus and familiarise yourself with the location of the toilet facilities in the buildings where you will spend most of your time.
- Sit close to the exit during lectures or workshops so you can make a swift exit if necessary
- If you have a locker, keep spare clothes there just in case.
- Contact us or your healthcare team to see about doing a Chronic disease self-management course.
Linking in with your college Doctor
If you're studying away from home, you are advised to register with your college university health service or a local GP. You may still be able to see your old GP when you go back home. Having a chronic illness like IBD means you will still need to be managed by your gastroenterologist but you should be linked in with local services either a GP in the location or campus doctor.
Your new doctor will be sent your existing medical records so they should be aware of your condition. Find out where your campus student health centre is located as well as the closest hospital emergency department.
You may feel it is worth making an appointment to see your new doctor, even while you are well, to make sure they know what having IBD means for you. You may also want to be referred to a gastroenterologist in your new location if you are too far away from home to commute for checkups.
Ensure that you have enough medication to last you through at least your first month on campus. Also find out where the nearest pharmacy is or if campus student health services can fill your prescriptions.
One of your main concerns is likely to be about getting work in on time, especially when you are having a flare-up or if you have to go to hospital.
Some universities and colleges will carry out a study needs assessment in advance which may provide for coursework extensions in certain cases. Others may ask you to submit work when you can, and apply for mitigating or extenuating circumstances if it is late Rules are different from one university or college to another and it can be worth checking in advance what the policy is, just in case you have problems with deadlines.
If you do find yourself having to negotiate a coursework extension, try to be realistic about how much time you need to recover and how much work you can do when you're still not feeling completely well.
Can I get help to cope with exams?
University can be a stressful time, with deadlines, coursework, and exams.
If you have IBD, you may find the stress can trigger a flare-up. Try to pace yourself and to find ways to help you relax, such as taking regular exercise, deep breathing exercises, or yoga.
If you have had a study needs assessment or you have talked to your tutor about your condition, and are able to provide a medical certificate from your doctor, you may be able to ask for special arrangements in exams. These might include, for example, sitting close to the exit nearest the toilets, taking the exam in a separate room away from the main body of students or requesting extra time. In some circumstances, if you are completely unable to sit an exam, you may be able to defer sitting it until you are better.
What other support is there?
All students experience anxiety when they start university.
Sometimes the pressure of exams, coursework, being away from home or feeling isolated when ill may become too much to deal with on your own, even if you have the support of friends and family.
If you do find you are feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed, you can turn to the counselling service at your university or college in complete confidence. You may find that as well as face-to-face counselling services, there are also phone-based helplines and online services accessible from the privacy of your room.
Counselling can help with all kinds of issues - health-related or more general - such as dealing with dilemmas or making difficult decisions, relationship difficulties, sexual problems, or identity issues.
We have various events, and online support meetings that you can avail of as a member of CCI.