Celiac disease: Considerations for choosing a post-secondary program

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Learn about some of the extra considerations you may have for picking the right post-secondary program when you are living with celiac disease and follow a strict gluten-free diet.

Key points

  • Choosing a post-secondary school or program requires additional considerations when you have celiac disease.
  • You can learn more about how a post-secondary institution can support you and your gluten-free diet by attending school tours, researching about off-campus food options and speaking with on-campus service staff and current students.
  • Start your research early and ask important questions to help make an informed decision.

You may be excited to research post-secondary programs and schools and to decide which one you will attend.

It is important that you start your research early and include in your research how these institutions might accommodate your diagnosis of celiac disease and need to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

Five things you should do before you hit ACCEPT!

1. If possible, attend a tour or orientation session

Attending an in-person tour or orientation session can help you get a feel for what the campus, dining halls and residences are like and what services are offered. You may also have the opportunity to speak to current students, ask specific questions about their experience on campus and learn more about clubs and extra-curricular activities.

2. Speak to food-service staff

When visiting campuses, request a walk-through of the dining hall with the food-service manager, chef, staff or campus dietitian. It is important to ask questions during this time to better understand if the school will be able to accommodate your needs. Ask specific questions like:

  • How are meals served? (E.g., buffet style, food stations, brown bag lunches)
  • What are your protocols for safely feeding people with celiac disease?
  • What precautions do you take to ensure the safety of gluten-free meals?
  • How does your kitchen prevent gluten-cross contact?
  • Are there any dining halls with designated gluten-free meals?
  • Do you use signs or symbols to indicate which dishes are gluten-free or can be made gluten-free?
  • Are you able to share the ingredients of dishes served?
  • Are there people on campus that have celiac disease and eat gluten-free?

Asking specific questions, beyond "can you accommodate students who eat gluten-free?", can help you get a better feel for whether food-service staff truly understand the severity of celiac disease and the need to eat strictly gluten-free.

If possible, get in touch with current students who have celiac disease and are provided gluten-free meals at their dining halls. Current students may be able to give a better perspective of how well the campus and dining staff accommodate students with specific dietary needs and what to expect if you decide to live on campus.

3. Take note of off-campus food and grocery store options

Before leaving the town of the program you are considering, take a quick spin around the area to learn more about what off-campus food and grocery store options are available to you. Are there familiar, go-to food spots that you know can safely accommodate your gluten-free diet? Are there grocery stores with a wide range of gluten-free options? How far are these options from the campus?

You may also want to ask current students living with celiac disease about what options are available off campus and what places they recommend that can safely provide gluten-free foods.

Learning about off-campus food and grocery store options may be helpful for when you and your friends want to explore the town's food scene, supplement your on-campus meals with gluten-free snacks or decide to live off-campus.

4. Get in touch with Accessibility Services on campus

Accessibility Services can help advocate for students and provide supports to ensure students have a safe post-secondary experience. Below are some examples of supports that they may offer for students living with celiac disease:

  • Academic supports and accommodations in the event that you have an accidental gluten exposure that impacts your studies.
  • Your own room with its own fridge or microwave. That way, you do not have a roommate bringing gluten-containing food into the room.
  • Parking on campus so you can drive to get the gluten-free groceries you need if they are not available on campus.

Get in touch with Accessibility Services early on to determine what medical information they will need from you, what forms you will need to fill out and the specific deadlines you will need to meet in order to receive accommodations.

5. Become familiar with campus mental health services

Following a strict gluten-free diet can be socially isolating and can sometimes lead to feelings of anxiety and depression, which may affect your academic life. Research what mental health services are provided at your top post-secondary choices and how these institutions help people who may be struggling. You may want to ask questions about these services while attending a tour or orientation session. These are some questions you may want to ask:

  • What mental health services are available?
  • How does your institution support people who may be struggling with stress, mental health or health conditions?
  • What is the process to receive mental health services?
  • How many mental health counsellors are available on campus?

In addition to asking questions during a tour or orientation session, get in touch with current students living with celiac disease to ask more specific questions about mental health and well-being supports for people living with a dietary restriction. You may want to ask:

  • Are there any celiac disease or gluten-free clubs or support groups on campus?
  • What do you do when you are struggling with managing celiac disease, the gluten-free diet and school?
  • What is your experience like with receiving academic accommodations for when you are accidentally exposed to gluten? What does this look like? How do you get these accommodations?

Starting early on your post-secondary program research and asking important questions are key to making the best-informed decision on which program to enroll in. Weigh each program's pros and cons before you make your final decision.

Last updated: October 11th 2023