A Comprehensive Guide to Surviving Being Sick in College



I’ve had my fair share and more of being sick during the school year. I’ve had to move finals, midterms, and quizzes, make-up discussions, and even sit down and talk with my professors. Turns out even the tough professors want us to succeed, despite being sick. Here are some of my best tips and tricks.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, please advise a doctor before taking medicines if you are not sure.


Preventing Being Sick

Prevention beats treatment! I cannot stress this enough, trying to stay healthy is easier than trying to recover.


1. Get enough sleep.

Without sleep, you will wear yourself down, and you will end up catching the bug that is going around, whatever it is. To keep your immune system up at its best, you need to sleep. We all know that the recommended amount is 8 hours a night, so make that a goal. Cramming late at night and losing that extra hour of sleep may do more harm than good.


2. Vitamins

You can talk to your doctor about what vitamins are best for you. I talked with mine, and now I try to take Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and a Women’s Daily Vitamin. I noticed a huge difference in my energy levels once I was taking them consistently, so reach out to your provider, even over email. In my opinion, Vitamin C is always a good one for immune system support (unless you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant).


3. Hand Sanitizer

I’ve noticed a lot of lecture halls and campus buildings have the stations right by the front doors — use it! Bath and Body Works have amazing smelling ones too, look out for their spring sale that will inevitably happen soon. Rule of thumb, better safe than sorry. Also, during that Bath and Body Works sale, stock up on those mini lotions because hand sanitizer can dry your skin out.

When I use hand sanitizer the most:

  • After getting off the bus — think about all the icky surfaces you touch that rarely — if ever — get cleaned

  • After using water fountains/bubblers

  • After lecture — how many people have sat in that desk before you? How many sick people after coughed and sneezed on that exact desk or even drooled on it while napping? Ew.


4. Use a sleeve or your arm to open doors

I know that it is impossible to use hand sanitizer after opening every door, but again there are so many people touching those surfaces that there are inevitably many viruses and bacteria on them. This also goes for railings on staircases.


5. Don’t touch your face.

That means no holding your head up during lecture, scratching your eyes, or holding a sneeze in with your hand. If you must, use hand sanitizer. This is often how people spread germs on their hands to the inside of their body and end up getting sick.


Treating Your Illness

How can you get better fast? Sometimes there is no way to control it, and you have to let the virus take its course. Think of it as your body fighting a war on the inside, so right now you have to do what you can to help it out.


1. Get More Sleep than Usual.

Take that nap you wanted. Yes, I’m even telling you to skip lecture. Your body recovers its fastest when resting.


2. Rest as Much as Possible.

I understand it’s unrealistic to put your life on hold for a common cold. Study while laying down. Take the bus instead of walking to class. Don’t go out partying even if your friends are trying to drag you along.


3. Vitamin C.

Try to help your immune system fight whatever is going on with vitamins. Emergen-C is a flavored powder you put in water that is my favorite go to, which leads me to the next tip.  


4. Stay Hydrated.

Getting enough fluids will help to move things through your body quicker. Plus, if you’re sick it is so much easier to get dehydrated.


5. Vicks Vapor Rub.

I don’t know many people who like using it, but honestly, it works. What do you dislike more, the congestion or Vicks? Also, you probably don’t want to hear this, but I’ve noticed the gel works better than the lotion. I’ve also heard that putting it on the bottom of your feet supposedly helps, and hey, I’m all for anything that will help me feel better.


6. NyQuil/Dayquil.

They are lifesavers, again check the label, ask your parents if you can’t decide whether or not to take it. Be sure to only take the amount listed on the label. Also be sure to not mix the two up when getting ready to go to your morning class, big mistake!


7. Break Your Fever.

Fevers make you feel so much worse. Take Advil or one of the above medicines in Tip #6. Also holding a cold washcloth to your forehead will help as well. Make sure to contact a health provider if it gets to be too high.


8. Breathe Steam.

Heat up a mug of water and sit with a towel over your head and breathe in the steam. Getting the moisture into your sinuses can help to get things moving and loosen up anything that’s in there.


9. Drink Tea.

Tea is a warm drink that will help your sinuses and your throat. My favorite teas for when I’m sick are Breathe Easy and Throat Coat both made by Traditional Medicinals.


10. Eat Spicy Foods.

This is another sinuses tip to get your nose to run if you’re all stuffed up


Upset Stomach Hack: This sickness isn’t any fun either. Luckily it is better cured with medicines such as Tums or Pepto. Avoid spicy or “heavy” foods. I’ve noticed that sipping stale Pepsi Coke helps to calm an upset stomach. Ginger is also good for stomach pain relief, so try to find some ginger cookies, candied ginger or ginger ale.


When it’s Real Bad

1. Go to University Health Services.

UHS can usually schedule you on the same day, in my experiences. If they can’t do anything more than tell you the tips I listed above, you can 1) Ask for a doctor’s note or B) Most TA’s and professors take you saying you have a UHS appointment for your word, and you have the appointment proof if needed.


2. Email your professors and TA’s.

Exam/Quiz: Look into your syllabus for exam and quiz policies for illnesses to see if they list a procedure, then email the professor right away. If they don’t answer and exam time is approaching, email a TA and ask for their advice. However, if you hear nothing and nothing is listed in the procedure on the syllabus, drag your butt to the exam room and explain your case in person and see if they will let you make it up when you are better — only if you’re physically able. Most professors are understanding, some are less. If you have to go, give it your best shot and know whatever you get will be better than the zero you will have gotten if you missed it.

Discussion: Email your TA right away if you are missing and ask what you can do to try and make it up if there are participation points

Lab: Look into the syllabus again and see if there is a makeup time. If that doesn’t work, or there is none listed, email your TA.

When emailing a professor, always address them with their name, Hi/Hello/Dear… Professor Last Name OR if they are a Dr. address that way. Look in the syllabus if you’re unsure. Always thank them, and if you have been emailing them a lot, and they’ve been flexible, make them aware that you appreciate their time and flexibility. Emailing TA’s is a lot more laid back, just try and keep it professional.


3. Skip Lecture.

If it is a large lecture hall, you most likely don’t have to notify anyone of your absence. Make sure to text a friend for notes or watch the recorded lecture if possible. If you can’t do either of those, don’t be afraid to ask the random stranger next to you are in the next lecture for the notes, most people are willing and happy to share. You are doing yourself a favor by letting yourself rest, and those around you by not spreading your germs to them.


4. Go Home.

If your home is close enough just go home. If you are truly that sick, having your parents around to take care of you is way better than trying to take care of yourself and tiptoeing around the roommates who are probably more than annoyed by your coughing or spreading of germs. If you are far from home, get all tucked in under your blankets, turn on a good Netflix show and rest as much as possible.


5. Make To-Do Lists.

List your classes, what assignments you have, what you have to move, and what you will be missing. Also, list what professors you have emailed and any makeup dates.  


6. Work Slowly but Steadily.

Yes, rest up, sleep, but if you physically and mentally can, try to do a tiny bit so you don’t fall too far behind. Make sure not to push yourself too hard though. Find the balance that works for you.


I hope that these tips can help you at least a little bit. Remember to use your best judgment and go to University Health Services if you need to. Your health is more important than your schooling. Feel better and try to stay healthy out there — this too shall pass!