Choosing a College
Congratulations! Whether you're just looking ahead or have an acceptance letter in hand, college is an exciting time of life. For many people, college is when they meet some of their closest friends and develop strong relationships with mentors. For others, it's a great time to get first-hand experience and begin developing the connections that will help them to get ahead in their career.
Having epilepsy shouldn't keep you from doing any of these things! Remember that epilepsy is just a small part of your life – even if it sometimes feels huge – and you're not alone.
Choosing a College
Picking a college can be a big deal. You may have known which school you were going to attend since you were five years old, when your parents took you to their alma mater for your first football game. Or, you might visit 10 different campuses and still not be certain which school is right for you.
Since your college will be your home away from home for the next four years, you'll want to pick a place where you feel comfortable and where you feel safe. Having epilepsy shouldn't determine which college you attend, but there are a few things you'll want to look for when picking your university.
Deciding between large and small
Large schools often have more of just about everything! More people, more dorm room options, more classes and more majors. If you're not certain of your major, or if you're looking to take a number of classes before making a decision, a large school can offer lots of opportunities.
You may find that it's easier to be anonymous in a large university – with so many faces in the crowd, it can be difficult to pick out yours.
One of the benefits of a small school is that you're more likely to get to know your professors because your classes will be smaller. Depending on the size of the school, you may discover that the largest classroom only holds about 75 students – very different from the 500-person auditoriums at a large university!
At the same time, unless the school is very competitive, you might find that there are fewer alums to meet after graduation or fewer job recruiters on campus.
Regardless of the size of the school you pick, make sure you feel comfortable on the campus and that it has the services you want and need like a student health center and a receptive Accessability and Disability Services office.
Transportation is one of those easily forgotten aspects of college, but it's also one of the most important. If your first class starts at 8 am on the other side of campus, it's pretty much guaranteed that you won't have perfect attendance – especially once the weather gets cold.
If your seizures keep you from driving, you may want to avoid college campuses that are spread out over several towns, especially if there's no shuttle bus or if it usually runs late. When you visit the campus, ask a few of the current students about the reputation of the shuttle bus – is it crowded or unreliable?
In recent years, many colleges have started banning freshmen and sophomores from keeping cars on campus. If you are unable to drive, it might be nice to know that you're not the only one without a car. Other campuses are closed to cars during business hours in order to make the campus more pedestrian friendly. If you've just received your license, this may be frustrating, but if you can't drive or you prefer to walk to classes, you might find it helpful.
If you will be biking or driving to campus, make sure you ask about the availability of bike racks and parking spaces. If those are in short supply, you might end up walking after all!
Accessibility and Disability Services
Every college or university that receives federal funding (this includes federal student loans), must have someone who handles accessibility-related services for disabilities. This individual is often called the Section 504 Coordinator, ADA Coordinator, or Disability Services Coordinator. In many colleges, you can find this person by contacting the Accessibility and Disability Services office and making an appointment.
College is a lot different from high school in terms of your rights and responsibilities. Although your high school had to provide you with a free and appropriate public education, colleges aren't required to do the same (as demonstrated by your tuition bill!) However, your college is required to provide the "appropriate academic adjustments necessary" to ensure you are not discriminated against.
Examples of these adjustments include:
- Priority registration
- Course substitutions
- Note takers, recording devices or sign language interpreters
- Extended time for test-taking
- School computers with screen-reading or voice-recognition software
The college cannot charge you for these adjustments. If you need a different adjustment, it's your responsibility to let the university know.
Getting what you need
Contact the Accessibility and Disability Services office as soon as you decide on your school and ask about their deadlines and policies. You can also review the steps outlined in your student handbook or course guide – those materials should outline how accommodations work and the type of documentation necessary.
Your university will require documentation of your disability. This will typically consist of a letter or form prepared by your doctor that discusses your diagnosis. If you had an individualized education plan or Section 504 plan, that may be helpful but you'll still need a note from your doctor.
You may have noticed poles with little blue light bulbs on campus during your tour. Those blue lights typically signify alarms that can be activated by pedestrians if they encounter an unsafe situation. Those alarms can also be used if you feel a seizure beginning. Some campuses will instead have a mobile app that you can install on your phone to alert campus security to your location and need for assistance in case of an emergency.
Before you arrive on campus, you may want to contact campus security to introduce yourself and explain that you have epilepsy. Let the campus police know what to expect if you have a seizure and provide information about the best first aid measures. They may ask that you send a photograph so they can identify you on sight, if needed.
You may also want to ask about late night rides home. Some security offices will provide free rides across campus at night while others limit the rides to medical emergencies. Ask about the availability of rides in the winter, when it's dark out, or if you're worried about a seizure. Many campus security apps will allow you to set a timer to track late night walks across campus. If you are unable to reach your location by the end of the time limit and can’t be reached, the app will notify designated individuals with an alert and your location.
Epilepsy centers provide you with a team of specialists to help you diagnose your epilepsy and explore treatment options.
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