College Life

This Simple DIY Is My Lifeline When I Get Sick at School

published Dec 20, 2023
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Bad symptoms of Covid-19 with headaches and fever experienced by a young woman lying on a couch at home.
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It’s like clockwork: As the days get shorter and temperatures drop to what feels like freezing, my schoolwork also gets more intense. Unfortunately, these early wintry months that encompass the end of the fall semester also include cold and flu season. This means that, while students are collaborating on projects, grinding out term papers, and cramming for final exams, many of us are also going to be fighting off illnesses.

There are several reasons students are prone to getting sick toward the end of the school semester. “People will probably be studying in groups, or getting together to finalize projects, or getting together to celebrate and let off some steam,” Dana Hawkinson, an assistant professor of infectious disease at University of Kansas Medical Center, tells Dorm Therapy. Close proximity with more people means a heightened potential for infection, he adds — “especially if you’re in the colder areas of the United States [where] most people are going to be inside doing things.”

Hawkinson recommends hygiene measures like washing your hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, and avoiding touching your face as the “most important thing” students can do to avoid sickness and reduce their frequency of infections. He says wearing a mask is also proven to help, as is keeping up with current vaccines.

Furthermore, it’s important to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to sickness. “Getting exercise and adequate nutrition will help boost your immune system more than anything you can buy over the counter,” Hawkinson says. Along with “adequate sleep … [these] things will reduce your risk of getting infection during these heavy times of finals and holidays.”

Of course, while these strategies can give a huge assist in avoiding illness, you can still get sick anyway. Whether you find yourself sick with a cold, the flu, COVID-19, or some kind of mystery bug, it’s important to be prepared. This is why I highly recommend having a Finals Flu Kit, aka a one-stop box of supplies for all the mild, inconvenient illnesses that tend to lurk during this busy time of year. 

Having a well-stocked and organized Finals Flu Kit means you won’t have to run out to grab any supplies in the event you get sick, nor will you have to suffer while you wait for your parents to send you a care package. The moment you get the sniffles or feel a tickle in your throat, you’ll be able to start treating your symptoms and recover in the comfort of your dorm room.

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Want to kickstart your own Finals Flu Kit? I’ve rounded up seven of the most helpful items to have close at hand — during finals season and year-round.

Note: While these items may ease your symptoms, be sure to speak with your doctor or the on-campus health center whenever you’re feeling ill, and consult your school’s health and safety guidelines for information on isolating and quarantining.


An easy-to-use thermometer is a great way to gauge how you’re doing if you’re sick. If you start to develop a fever, you can monitor it to determine whether you need to seek additional medical care or just get extra rest. Harvard Health Publishing recommends adults see a medical professional if their fever exceeds 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cough Drops

Cough drops can help soothe discomfort from a dry throat or cough. Even if your throat isn’t dry from a cold or flu, you may still feel the effects of the cold winter air outside, or the dry air of your heated dorm room. 

COVID-19 Tests

High-quality, rapid COVID-19 tests are perhaps the most important part of my Finals Flu Kit. Especially as many schools are scaling back on their COVID response policies, it’s crucial to have tests readily available if you ever feel any COVID, cold-, or flu-like symptoms. Some schools still provide free tests to students, and if your school is one of them, it’s a good idea to stock up with two or three that you can use from the safety of your dorm room. You can also order four free tests to be delivered to you from Otherwise, you can order some online or pick them up from a drugstore. Having tests on hand could be the difference between a well-managed isolation period and being Patient Zero for your 200-person economics lecture-turned-superspreader event.

Cold and Flu Medicine

Over-the-counter cold and flu medications like Tylenol, NyQuil, and decongestants with pseudoephedrine like Sudafed can all help lessen the worst of your cold and flu symptoms. These meds can be the key to a closer-to-symptom-free day or a good night’s sleep when taken correctly and in accordance with their instructions — just be sure to chat with your doctor about any medications you take.

“We know Tylenol and Nyquil can help with those aches and pains, and to reduce those fevers, as well,” Hawkinson says. “Sudafed, which is usually behind the counter … can help clear your nasal passages.” 

Vitamin C Supplements

Taking multivitamin supplements that contain lots of vitamin C, like Emergen-C or Airborne, may help boost your immune system and lessen your symptoms. (However, more evidence is still needed to prove these products can actually prevent illness, and Hawkinson says long-term strategies like good sleep, hand hygiene, good nutrition, and exercise remain the best way to boost your immune system.)


Just as cough drops can be soothing, warm teas — especially those taken with honey — can do wonders to relieve pain and inflammation in your throat and chest. Go for a green tea for a morning or midday pick-me-up (or when those 4 p.m. sunsets start getting to you), and caffeine-free chamomile for a light, calming refresher. 

Easy-to-Make Meals

If you’re sick, it’s best practice to avoid the school dining halls, partially because you may not have the energy to do so, partially because you should avoid spreading germs that can get others sick. But even if you don’t feel like it, you still have to eat! That’s why having easy-to-make, dorm-friendly foods available is a game-changer (think: Easy Mac, instant ramen noodles, or microwaveable chicken noodle soup). Trust me — you’ll be happy to have them.

Sofia Andrade

History & Literature and Gender Studies

Sofia Andrade is a Miami-based journalist and the child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She is a first-generation student at Harvard University, where she was most recently Arts Chair of The Harvard Crimson. Sofia’s writing has been featured in the Washington Post, Slate, The Nation, El Nuevo Herald, and elsewhere. She recently spent her junior-year spring semester abroad in Madrid, and came back home with plenty of decor inspo (including a newfound obsession with tiles!).

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