Planning for college
Whether you’re heading straight to a four-year college or taking a few classes at a local community college, this is your chance to explore new experiences and make new friends. Read on for some questions PH teens had for our college-age PH Email Mentors.
“Should I dorm at school?”
Dorming on campus is a big part of the college experience. However, college dorms are small. They may limit your privacy if you need to prepare medications or change a site, and put you at risk for catching every cold your roommate has. Many colleges offer single-person dorm rooms. While these single-person rooms might cost extra, you may be able to have the extra fee waived as a medical accommodation.
On the topic of moving away from home, Emily suggests, "You don't realize how much your parents are there for you until you leave them. Going to a school that's somewhere near so your parents can be there in a reasonable amount of time is a good idea." Emily, Carson and Wendy also recommend practicing independence before you go off to college - preparing and ordering your own medications, for instance. Carson adds, "I called my mom every two or three days just to check in. You do get more independent very quickly. You do get to the point where you're ready to take care of yourself a bit more."
“Who should I tell about my PH?”
Letting the right people know about your pulmonary hypertension can make things smoother for you, every day and in the event of an emergency.
Most colleges have a a “Disability Support Services” or similar office on campus that manages accommodations for students. This office can help you arrange special dietary needs at the dining hall, extra time on tests or note-taking assistance, pre-registration for courses, centrally located housing if you’ll be dorming, handicapped parking, or transportation around campus so you don’t have to walk long distances. If possible, investigate these services during your college search. "If you're having issues, get the resources you need to succeed in school," says Sean. "Their goal is to educate - they want everyone to succeed. Utilize the services there so that you can succeed."
Some colleges also have their own team of EMTs who come first in event of a medical emergency. You should let the college emergency services team know about your condition and what medications you take.
Dorm Resident Assistant (RA)
If you are dorming, let your RA know about your medical condition. Your RA may be the first person involved if an emergency happens, and you want them to know what symptoms to look for and the safe way to help you if you're not feeling well.
Tell your professors and teaching assistants about your PH. This might help explain sudden absences, equipment needed in class, hospitalizations, late arrivals, etc. Let your professors know as soon as possible if you are going to miss class for a doctor appointment or if you can’t make it because you’re sick. Many will be understanding of your condition if you warn them ahead of time.
Before you move, scope out the local hospital and, if there is one, the local PH Center. “I moved about three hours from my home. It’s okay to move away, but check out the hospitals in the area just in case something does go wrong,” recommends Emily.
A big part of college is making new friends. This can feel challenging under any circumstances, and especially difficult if you’re not sure how to talk about your PH. “Going to a new place and a new city, it’s hard to make friends anyway and then having this extra obstacle of PH makes things a little bit harder,” says Carson. “But I’ve learned that if you’re willing to open up and let your friends in, and tell them your story, it makes them feel closer to you. They are dealing with something, you’re dealing with something, and it might be different, but it’s a way you can connect. Letting them in, giving them the chance to go through the good times and bad times with you is really important.”
"How are accommodations different in college from high school?"
Disability laws change between high school and college. "In high school, the school is required to seek you out and provide what you need. In college, you have to be proactive - they are not going to find you," explains Carson. If you want the school to provide accomodations for you, you have to inform them about your medical condition and needs. The school will probably require a letter from your doctor as proof that you have a disability. Check with your school's Disability Support Services office for the procedure to inform the campus of your medical condition.
“Can I get scholarships because of my PH?”
If you know you’ll need assistance paying for college, complete the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in a timely manner. The FAFSA is required to qualify for federal loans and grants, as well as the funding programs at many universities and private foundations. There are also resources available online to make college more affordable for students living with a chronic illness. PH patients looking to continue their education in college or graduate school can take advantage of many of these grants, scholarships and loans. Check out some of these websites as you begin your search:
“When it comes down to it, it is ultimately how well each person answers the prompts that the scholarship asks,” advises Sean. “My advice: Start early, be organized, and get plenty of help. Starting early is important because scholarships have deadlines, and you need to know what you’re going to write about, and will definitely need time to polish up your essays. Be organized: Know when the deadlines are and stay on top of them. Try and submit them early. Finally, get plenty of help. You want your friends/family to make sure that your submissions reflect your potential, ability, and character. You also want to get help polishing up your essays. Nothing says ‘we’re going to give money to this person and not that person,’ more than grammatical/mechanical errors.”
Make the Most of College - In Moderation
Remember to balance fun, study and downtime! "Have fun. College is about making friends, networking and being able to experience everything that's there. It's good to socialize, but make sure you know your limits. Allot time for studying, time for family and time for yourself - if you're not healthy, you're not in school," reminds Sean.
This piece is adapted from the 2010 Young Adults with PH: 18+ Conference session. Listen to the full session
Have more questions? Ask a Young Adult PH Email Mentor!