What to Do If You Get Sick in College

From extensions to prescriptions, here's how to handle it

Young woman sick in bed
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Being sick in college is not the most pleasant of experiences. You likely have no one taking care of you, like you would at home, while at the same time your responsibilities and obligations continue to pile up as you're stuck in bed. So just what are your options if you get sick in college?

If You Have a Relatively Minor Illness

Here's what to do if you have a simple cold, a case of the flu, or other not-too-serious illness...

Let your professors know you're missing class. If you are a student in a small class, have a big day in class (meaning you have a paper due or presentation to give), or have any other responsibilities where your absence will be both noted and problematic. A quick email letting your professor know you're sick, while promising to follow-up with them about how to make up the assignment (including a gracious request for an extension), should only take a few minutes to write but will save you quite a bit of time later.

Let yourself rest. True, you have that midterm to take, a huge event your cultural club is planning, and the concert you and your roommate have had tickets for for months. It may be frustrating, but you need to take care of yourself first and foremost. The last thing you need, after all, is to just get even sicker just because you didn't take care of yourself. It may seem impossible at first, but there really are ways to get more sleep in college. Let yourself sleep!

Eat healthy and drink plenty of fluids. True, eating healthy in college can be a challenge—but it also can be accomplished. Think of what your mother would want you to eat: fruits and veggies, things with nutrition, healthy liquids. Translation: no, a donut and a Diet Coke won't work for breakfast, especially when you're sick. Grab a banana, slice of toast, and orange juice instead.

Ask a friend or your roommate to get you some medicine. Sometimes the basics, like aspirin and DayQuil, can make a bad cold or flu manageable. Don't be afraid to ask a friend or roommate to grab you something while they're out and about!

Head to the campus health center for a check-up. If you're sick for more than a day or two, have really bad symptoms, or otherwise just don't feel right, utilize what your campus has to offer. Make an appointment—or just walk in—to the campus health center. They can check you out while also offering advice and medication to get you back on your feet.

Check in with your professors if you miss more than a day or two of classes. If you're missing a day of lecture in your chemistry class, you can usually grab notes from a friend or get them online. But if you're missing a few days, especially when there's intense material being covered or discussed, let your professor know what's going on. Tell your professor that you're really sick, and that you might need a little help catching up. It's much, much easier to be in touch early on than try to explain later why you haven't been to class, haven't been in touch, and haven't turned in your assignments.

Prioritize your to-do list and time management. If you're sick for more than a day or two, you will likely fall behind on at least something—life in college moves very, very quickly. Take a few moments to write down a little list of what you have to do and then prioritize. Getting to the health center for a Strep Throat test? Priority! Updating Facebook with pictures from last weekend's Halloween party? Not a priority. Take care of the most important things now so you can do the other things you want and need to do later.

If You Have a Major Illness or are Sick for a Long Time

If your sick day or two turns into a major illness or you're sick for long enough that your academics suffer...

First and foremost, let your professors know what's going on. Even if you just shoot them a quick email letting them know that you've been really sick for a week and are trying to figure out what's going on, that email is much better than complete silence. Ask them what they need from you, if anything, to justify this much missed class (a note from the health center? copies of your hospital paperwork?). Additionally, check your syllabi or ask your professors directly about what their policy is if you've missed something major, like a midterm or paper deadline.

Check in with your campus health center. If you're sick for more than a day or two, definitely go see the campus health center. On top of a check-up, they can verify with your professors that, indeed, you do have a nasty case of the flu and need to be out of class for another day or so.

Check in with your academic adviser, an academic support office, the dean of students' office, and/or the dean of faculty office. If you're missing a lot of class, are sick, and your academics are suffering, you'll need some help from the campus administration. Don't worry, though: this doesn't mean you've done anything wrong. It just means you've been sick! And everyone from your adviser to the dean of faculty has dealt with sick students before. Life happens in college; people get sick. Just be smart about it and let the appropriate people know so that, as you begin to recover, you can have the support you need academically instead of having to stress about your situation.