How to Survive Getting Sick in College

Imagine a pile of untouched homework assignments on your desk that seems to grow in size every time you look at it. Now envision checking your calendar and noticing that you have a calculus exam in exactly three days that you have not yet started studying for. You also pulled an all-nighter two weeks ago and for some reason, your sleep schedule still hasn’t returned to normal.

Among your endless list of responsibilities, sleep deprivation and stress, you feel an itch in the back of your throat and you suddenly realize that you are getting sick. Ugh. What now?

Story by Jacqueline Briddell

Illustrations by Sonia Margolin

Unfortunately, most college students experience a similar reality at least once a year. The flu season seems to last for the majority of the fall semester and once temperatures start getting warmer, allergy season picks up right where the flu virus left off. However, getting sick in college may be even worse than ever before because you’re all on your own. Mom might be halfway across the country-- maybe even the world-- and can’t bring you comfort food or heating pads. For the first time, you are responsible for taking care of yourself.

Don’t panic. We might not have your mom’s secret home remedies that treats the common cold within a day, but we can make your experience with illness on campus a lot easier.

Here is a guide on how to survive being sick in college.

Get some rest

Responsibilities will never take a break, but maybe you should. If you feel yourself getting sick or you already are, you need to rest. Skip out on Thirsty Thursdays with your friends, stay in bed, relax, get lots of sleep, and just take it easy until you feel better. There’s no need to put extra pressure on yourself when your body is already under stress fighting off an illness.

Stay hydrated

This almost goes without saying, but staying hydrated is everything. Water doesn’t just keep your body going on a regular basis, but especially while you are sick, fluids can help flush out the toxins in your body which can speed up your recovery process. Drink, drink and then drink some more! We mean water, of course…

Nurture your body

After sleep and hydration, proper nutrition is the most important factor in recovering from an illness. Consume vitamin- and mineral-rich foods and drinks such as soups, broths, hot tea, honey, oatmeal, fruits (specifically bananas and citrus fruits) and green vegetables. Spicy foods containing chili peppers are also said to help chase out mucus and other infections. Also, consider taking supplemental vitamins like Emergen-C or Airborne to boost your immune system.

Call the 24 hour nurse helpline

University Health Services offers a 24-hour nurse advice line free of charge for UT students. They operate all day, everyday, and the nurses can help you figure out how to care for yourself at home or set up an appointment with a healthcare provider if your condition requires professional medical attention. Whether you think you can diagnose yourself or have no idea what is wrong with you, this free helpline can help guide you to taking the right steps toward feeling better.

Visit the health care center

In some cases, the nurses from the advice line will advise you to see a doctor if your illness is very serious or persists for more than a few days. In that case, visit UHS in the Student Services Building. If you don’t have health insurance or your insurance is not accepted by the univeristy, your visit will cost $10 (not including any additional testing or treatments). You can make an appointment online at any time or call their office to set up a time.

Missing a day of class is OKAY

We are in no way encouraging you to skip class, but if you are so sick that you must stay home to rest, then don’t hesitate to take a day off. However, do not fall behind on your school work. Email your professor or Teacher’s Assistant to let them know you will be missing class due to illness and get in touch with your classmates to get the notes or any other materials you missed while you were out sick.

Get enough sleep

Did we mention this already? Oh well. Consider this a reminder. Sleep is your best friend.

Take care of yourself - both physically and mentally

Your mental health is just as important as your physical wellness. Aside from the health care center, the university also offers a variety of other resources to help your emotional well-being.

The UT Counseling and Mental Health Center offers counseling, psychiatric, consultations, etc. to students five days a week. It also has a 24-hour crisis hotline available to students in distress that operates every day, including weekends and holidays.

The MindBody Labs, located in the Student Services Building and the Student Activity Center, are also a safe space for students to go to escape their stress for a while. You can experience guided audio and video exercises and get more information regarding effective breathing, meditation, sleep issues, etc. Not only are these labs free, but they do not require an appointment.

Call Mom!

No matter how mature you think you are, or how minor your illness might seem, it’s always a good idea to call mom or a loved one. Whether it may be for her secret all-healing soup recipe or just to hear a comforting voice, getting in touch with someone who cares about you will always help to make you feel a lot better.


Being sick sucks, especially in college. But remember that despite what you may think, you will not fall incredibly far behind in school if you take a sick day. Both your physical and emotional well-being is extremely important for a healthy and happy college experience. Take advantage of campus resources and always reach out to someone if you need help.