Navigating Celiac at College

By Anna Cass and Jessica Cohen

Jessica Cohen and Anna Cass have teamed up to help you navigate celiac disease at college. Learn about Jessica and Anna. In the months to come we will be sharing our experiences with you.

My name is Jessica, and I live in Worcester, MA. I was diagnosed with celiac disease at the end of my freshman year of high school. Since I was diagnosed pretty recently, I am still acclimating to living gluten free. I like to think that I have gotten a handle on my celiac disease in my own city, but I know that moving from high school to college will be a big shift. My “college search”, already stressful, has the added weight of navigating celiac disease away from home.

There’s already so much to consider when looking at colleges, and adding dietary restrictions to that list can be overwhelming. I have found that going on college tours takes a lot of research on my part. Before ever stepping foot on the campus, I spend time on the school’s website. Things like where dining halls are located, how much storage the dorm rooms have, how the dining halls are set up, nearby stores and restaurants, and student testimonials can be incredibly helpful in imagining your future at a school. Once I am on the grounds, I ask the tour guide questions and pay attention to details around me. I have to balance evaluating the school with checking my research about the food options. The bottom line is that nobody knows your dietary needs better than yourself- you have to advocate and trust your instincts. 

My name is Anna, I attend college in Waltham, MA. I was diagnosed with celiac disease my sophomore year of high school, and experienced what Jessica is talking about while I was looking at colleges. I researched my college, I asked all the right questions, and I still ran into problems when I got to school. Mislabeling, not enough food options, and navigating food-centered social situations was overwhelming. I worked extensively with my dining hall, I advocated fiercely, and I communicated with my friends. Things were not easy, but I learned a lot about effective ways to solve these problems. I’m excited to share those solutions with you. I hope my experience will help others solve problems when they inevitably arise. As someone on the other side of the college admissions process, I can help you figure out what questions to ask before matriculating, and what to do once you’ve decided to enroll.

This process might feel overwhelming, and there are some things you might want to “just deal with when I get there”. Instead, I urge you to communicate with your school ahead of time and set yourself up for success.

We’re creating this blog to help you advocate for yourself and ultimately feel safe, comfortable, and welcome if you’re choosing to attend college. Celiac disease can be difficult to manage at times, but by no means should it prevent you from experiencing everything college has to offer.

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