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Food Allergy-Friendly Colleges: Navigating the Search Process

Food Allergy-Friendly Colleges: Navigating the Search Process

Dining hall at Colgate University

Calling all high schoolers with food allergies (especially you upperclassmen)! While you’re trying to focus on balancing school, extracurriculars, family/friends, and allergies, something new and potentially stressful is now on the horizon: college. I get it – I’m a senior in high school who is trying to find a school that fits my criteria. One that is also safe to attend considering my food allergies. The process seems, at first, almost impossible – are there even allergy-friendly colleges? That’s why I’m starting this two-part series to provide you with some tips and insight about navigating the college process. 

Finding colleges accommodating food allergies

After countless campus visits, virtual tours, and information sessions, I’ve submitted all ten of my college applications. Food allergies were an extremely important consideration during the college search process for me, especially since I have allergens outside of the Top 9. 

I was nervous (and still am) about whether or not certain colleges will be able to accommodate my food allergies. At the same time, I feel like no matter what school I attend, I’ll have an opportunity to advocate about allergies and make the campus safer for everyone. 

How to get started: finding an allergy-friendly college

As you begin to embark on (or continue) the allergy-friendly college search process, I would first recommend visiting schools in person. This way you can see their dining hall facilities firsthand, and maybe even have a conversation with a representative. 

If you have an opportunity to speak with a dining hall representative, take it, and consider asking them open-ended questions such as:

  • “what accommodations are available in your dining halls for people with food allergies?”
  • “how do your dining hall kitchens handle the risk of cross-contamination of allergens?” 

You can get more information about these topics later on if you decide to go to that college. But, it’s helpful to gain a preliminary understanding of how the college handles food allergies, and gauge how aware a given dining hall representative may be about them. 

Some schools have dining hall apps where you can access a list of ingredients for each dish. Others provided ingredient labels in the cafeteria. At a few schools, in particular, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had top-8-free kitchens within their dining halls. Specially trained chefs would get to know people individually and cater to whatever dietary restrictions/needs that they managed! 

Courtyard at Georgetown University
Courtyard at Georgetown University

Things to keep an eye out for: shared dorms, medical facilities and more.

Dorms: Are the dorms at the school and can you access a shared kitchen on the floor of your dorm?. Do they have any accommodations for students with food allergies?

Medical Access: It’s good practice to look into the medical facilities at the college and in the area. Are there auto-injectors located on campus? If you were in a situation where you needed medical attention, how accessible would it be to you?

What’s Around Campus: It’s also important to check out the surrounding area and identify a few restaurants that you could safely eat at. For example, finding chain restaurants that are generally safe for you, in case you ever wanted to eat off-campus or order in. I always felt better when I saw a Panera in the area since it is one of my go-to’s! You can also check out a local non-chain restaurant, communicate with their kitchen staff and see what you think.

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Thinking beyond finding an allergy-friendly college and consider how you manage your food allergies

My final piece of advice is to learn to gain independence and advocate for yourself BEFORE you go to college. Get in the habit of always carrying your auto-injector kit without being reminded. I’ve been communicating with chefs at restaurants about my allergies for years. As a result, I now feel comfortable having a conversation with someone in a dining hall and making judgments about whether or not something is safe for me. 

If you learn to communicate your needs and the seriousness of food allergies while your parents can still be at your side, then when you get to college, the transition will be made much easier!

The allergy-doubts: Can I even do this?

Going to college can be scary for anyone, and when you manage food allergies, it can appear even more daunting. Remember that you’re not going into it alone. Everyone during your freshman year will be adjusting and doing something new. Your classmates, professors, nutritionists, and others will be willing to help you (some of them probably have food allergies or dietary restrictions themselves!). You’ve got this!

You got in, now what?

I hope this article gave you some peace of mind about the allergy-friendly college process. Or at least provided a starting point for looking into different schools. If it was helpful, stay tuned for part two, where you’ll find out where I’m headed next year. In addition, I will share how I plan to manage my food allergies at that school!

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