This month, guest blogger Julie Bourne, a rising Junior at the University of Denver and Campus Celiac blogger, shares her advice on the important -- and sometimes overwhelming -- college search process. She advises prospective college students with Celiac or gluten sensitivity on the steps to go through as they begin to consider their top college choices.
There is the saying that one must look for the right “fit” when choosing a college. However, selecting a college is not as simple as, say, finding shoes that fit. And for a prospective student with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity, this process can prove to be even more daunting. In spite of this, there are several straightforward actions that a gluten free prospective student can take to ensure that they will find the dream college that will give them the happy and healthy experience that they deserve.
I would recommend that a gluten free prospective student to start their search without extensively considering their dietary needs. Gather a list of schools that fit your educational and social preferences so that you have a foundation for further research and decision-making. After narrowing your search down to a list of schools, start researching the gluten free awareness at each school. The best way to do this is by utilizing an online search engine. For example, if you are interested in the University of Southern California, you might search for “USC gluten free”. Spend some time reading up on your finds, and be sure to check out the school’s dining services website. GlutenFreeTravelSite is also building a database of reviews of college dining services, submitted by gluten free college students who review the dining services for their degree of "gluten free friendliness." Check this list to see if some of the schools you're looking at have been reviewed. And please encourage any GF college students you know (or meet) to submit their own reviews!
When vising schools, try to opt for campus tours that include a meal in the dining hall. This will not only be a great opportunity to scope out the gluten free options there, but you can also use this as a chance to meet the need-to-know people in on-campus dining service management. Schedule a meeting with the manager and ask questions such as: “Do you have experience preparing food for students with gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease?”, “What kinds of options will I have on a daily basis?”, and “Do you take precautions to avoid cross contamination?”. After discussing your needs with management, you should be able to make a decision on whether or not you will feel safe eating in the school’s dining halls.
Last but not least, try to get an idea of the kitchen access within the dorms that you will likely be living in. Will you be in a suite with a full kitchen? Will you be in a double room with a microwave and fridge? Will you have absolutely no access to kitchen appliances at all? Knowing what to expect in this realm will prove to be extremely helpful in deciding what appliances you need to purchase (if any), and it will also give you an idea of whether or not you might plan to cook some of your own meals. If it turns out that a school’s dining hall is not a safe place for you to eat, you should try to reserve a dorm room that has access to a kitchen (most campus Disability Services can be very helpful with special requests such as this).
Though your health will always be of an utmost importance, don’t feel the need to limit your college choices based solely on your required gluten free lifestyle. If you find yourself falling in love with a particular university, go for it! Just about every university’s food services division will be more than willing to work with you, so don’t give gluten the right to be a major constraint on this big life decision. You’ll know it when a college is the one for you and it just seems to “fit”!
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