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Preparing for College with Food Allergies and Medical Needs

Thank you to our community partners at Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) for sharing this wonderful resource with iCAN.

Preparing for College With Food Allergies and Medical Needs

College acceptance letters are arriving in high school seniors’ mailboxes this time of year. Location, campus size, sports, clubs, and other offerings are among the criteria that help drive school selection. For iCAN students with food allergies or dietary needs due to medical diagnosis, there are extra considerations when choosing a college.

A growing number of schools are taking steps to ensure that students with food allergies or dietary needs have a safe, successful college experience. While many schools have established policies and programs, keep in mind that these practices vary widely from school to school. Below, FARE offers tips for students on what to consider while researching colleges and universities, plus how to make their college years rewarding and safe.

Start Preparing Before You Go

You begin your academic preparations for college while you are in high school. Likewise, it’s important to start early as you prepare to handle your food allergies at college.

Your parents may want to help you evaluate colleges based on their food allergy accommodations. But remember that once you’re away at college, you will be in charge. You're the one who will work with your school directly and make day-to-day decisions based on your food allergies. You can hone these skills before you graduate high school. It will help smooth your transition to college and your path to independence.

Speak Up

Practice communicating your needs to those around you. For example, if you don’t already explain your food allergies when eating out, start doing so.

Think Ahead

Consider your daily needs and what accommodations you might require at college. For example, will you need a dorm room with a private microwave or a mini fridge? Will you be safe living with another student, or will you need a private room?

Questions to Ask Disability Services

· Do you understand that food allergy and dietary need accommodations may fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? If you are living outside of the US, have you reached out to your medical care team to see what options might be available to you? Each country and region offers a variety of ways to keep students safe - the key is to ask as much as you can.

· Does the school have a comprehensive food allergy/dietary need policy in place?

· Will you coordinate my accommodations and emergency care plan with other relevant departments, including housing, dining and health services?

· What emergency procedures are in place in case of an anaphylactic reaction? If needed, will staff give epinephrine? What emergency procedure is in place for low blood sugar or other urgent need?

· What documentation do I need for accommodation requests?

Questions to Ask Dining Services

· How do you accommodate your current students with food allergies or dietary needs?

· Can I tour the dining facility during normal service hours? (This will help you see how the dining hall functions during busier times.)

· Has the dining staff undergone any food allergy training, including how to recognize anaphylaxis? Are there ongoing training reminders?

· What are the emergency procedures in your dining facilities?

· Do staff take steps to avoid food cross-contact?

· How can students access allergen information for the menus? Are ingredients listed online, in the dining hall or available by request? Do you need a carbohydrate count or nutrition facts count, and if so, do you have a way to access that information?

· Who is the designated person in the dining hall who will answer my questions about food allergies?

Questions to Ask Housing Services

· Does the school have the resources to offer the housing accommodations I need?

· Do you have a MicroFridge rental program? (This combination microwave, refrigerator and freezer can make it easier for you to store food safely and prepare your own meals.)

· Will my resident advisor (RA) be trained on food allergies, signs of an allergic reaction, emergency procedures, and how to administer epinephrine?

· Will the school allow my RA to administer my epinephrine in case of an emergency?

· Will the school educate other students living in the dorms about the symptoms and treatment for an allergic reaction, including other needs such as low blood sugar?

· How will my food accommodations be handled at special events, like student orientation and dorm celebrations?

Questions to Ask About Medical Care and Emergency Services

· Where is the nearest hospital? How long does it typically take to get there from campus?

· What food allergy training do campus police or security have? Do they have access to epinephrine auto-injectors as a back-up to the epinephrine devices that students may carry? If having a low blood sugar, who can help with glucose/glucagon?

· Can you put me in touch with the local Emergency Medical Service provider if I have more questions?

For more resources, including the FARE Food Allergy College Search, visit To learn more about iCAN, connect for the annual summit or to join our Young Adult Professionals group, please visit

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