Now that I’ve been in school for almost month, I’ve began to gather all sorts of experience with the college food situation and food allergies. In fact, the next few blogs are all going to be college themed. If you are a senior in high school, this is prime college application time, so you’ve probably been swamped with things to think about as you write all of your essays. But your health is a major consideration when you look at a school when you have food allergies. So these are the things that I believe are the most important things to worry about when looking for a college.
#1. Dining Services
Every college dining hall is slightly different from the others. In some small schools, they will purchase safe food for you instead of forcing you on the meal plan. At larger schools, they might have stations that are free of the top 8 allergens. Many schools will also accommodate allergic students by specially preparing meals for them. FARE now has a college search tool that contains the allergy policies at several places of higher education http://college.foodallergy.org/#_ga=2.260750090.683933256.1505529566-1529109221.1501811256. But this list is far from complete—my school, the University of Delaware, is not on there despite it’s wonderful allergy protocol. Sometimes this information can be hidden on the college’s websites, but it’s worth checking into at each school you apply to. And please please please eat a meal at the dining hall before committing to the school.
#2. Disabilities Services
This may shock many allergic teens, but your allergies are technically considered a disability. In both the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Section 504, “a person with a disability is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that seriously limits one or more major life activities, or who is regarded as having such impairments”. Asthma and allergies are usually considered disabilities under the ADA. Therefore, your college might require that you file a note from your allergist with disabilities services in order for you to receive the best accommodations for you to stay safe in school.
#3. Housing Services
Once you file your paperwork with disabilities services, you may be able to talk with housing services about any accommodations you need in your living space. Perhaps you would like to live in a single dorm. Or maybe you’d feel safest skipping the meal plan and getting an upperclassman apartment that has a kitchen as a freshman. In my case, I chose to live with a roommate, but I did request a dorm with air conditioning for my asthma through my housing services. I decided to have a roommate mostly for social and adjustment reasons and because I believe that my allergies are easy enough to work around. I communicated with my roommate early on about my allergies, and our room has a strict Julia’s allergen-free rule for our little pantry.
#4. Health Services/Proximity to a Hospital
I know, I know, you don’t want to think about accidents, but they happen. Your proximity to a good hospital is very important should you have an allergic reaction at college. The health services center on campus, although very helpful, may not be adequate to help you in case of an allergic emergency. Be sure that there is an easy way for you to attain the medical care you need within the 20 minutes provided by the two epipens that you always carry with you…
#5. What do you want
This is the first time you’ll be living away from your parents. It’s up to you to find what will make you the most comfortable at your new home away from home. And your food allergies are only one consideration. Be sure that you consider all the other factors like size, location, academics, athletics, extracurriculars, learning style, and reputation just as your allergy-less friends do.